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Uvalde, Texas: Attorneys expected to make big announcement

Uvalde, Texas: Attorneys expected to make big announcement

  • PublishedMay 22, 2024

The families also agreed a $2 million settlement with the city, under which city leaders promised higher standards and better training.

HOUSTON — The families of 19 of the victims in the Uvalde elementary school shooting in Texas on Wednesday announced a lawsuit against nearly 100 Texas DPS officers who were part of the botched law enforcement response.

The 92 officers were among 370 federal, state and local officers who waited 77 minutes to confront the teenage gunman at Robb Elementary, lawyers announced Wednesday. While they waited, he killed 19 fourth-graders and two teachers with an AR-15 weapon in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history. 

During the hour and seven minutes on May 24, 2022, terrified students in the classrooms were calling 911 and begging for help.

“Nearly 100 officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety have yet to face a shred of accountability for cowering in fear while my daughter and nephew bled to death in their classroom,” Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed, said in a statement.Relatives of 17 of those students killed and two who were injured also announced Wednesday that they are suing Mandy Gutierrez, who was the principal at Robb at the time, and Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who was the school district police chief, for their “inaction” that day.

The families said in a statement that they also agreed a $2 million settlement with the city, under which city leaders promised higher standards and better training for local police.

Attorney Josh Koskoff said they’re also going to sue the State of Texas and the federal government. 

The lawsuit announced Wednesday is the latest of several seeking accountability for the law enforcement response. 

It is the first lawsuit to come after a 600-page Justice Department report was released in January that catalogued “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership and technology problems that day.

The lawsuit notes state troopers did not follow their active shooter training and responsibility to confront the shooter, even as the students and teachers inside were following their own lockdown protocols of turning off lights, locking doors and staying silent.

“The protocols trap teachers and students inside, leaving them fully reliant on law enforcement to respond quickly and effectively,” the families and their attorneys said in a statement.

Agonized parents who rushed to the school pleaded with officers to go inside but they continued to wait in a hallway and outside where they could hear gunshots. 

“While there is nothing normal about living in a society where kids can easily get access to a military rifle, the reality is that these officers were so terrified that they chose to abandon their burden to the Uvalde community: put themselves between a very dangerous person and a child, and the families must hold them accountable,” Koskoff said.

A tactical team of officers eventually went into the classroom and killed the shooter.

“Law-enforcement’s inaction that day was a complete and absolute betrayal of these families and the sons, daughters and mothers they lost,” said Erin Rogiers, one of the attorneys for the families. “TXDPS had the resources, training and firepower to respond appropriately, and they ignored all of it and failed on every level. These families have not only the right but also the responsibility to demand justice.”

A criminal investigation into the police response by Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell’s office remains ongoing. A grand jury was summoned this year, and some law enforcement officials have already been called to testify.

Another lawsuit filed in December 2022 against local and state police, the city, and other school and law enforcement, seeks at least $27 billion and class-action status for survivors. And at least two other lawsuits have been filed against Georgia-based gun manufacturer Daniel Defense, which made the AR-style rifle used by the gunman.

The settlement with the city was capped at $2 million because the families said they didn’t want to bankrupt the city where they still live and to allow the community to continue to heal. The settlement will be paid from city’s insurance coverage.

Under the settlement, the city agreed to a new “fitness for duty” standard and enhanced training for Uvalde police officers. It also establishes May 24 as an annual day of remembrance, a permanent memorial in the city plaza, and support for mental health services for the families and the greater Uvalde area.

The police response to the mass shooting has been criticized and scrutinized by state and federal authorities. A 600-page Justice Department report in January catalogued “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership and technology problems that day,

Another report commissioned by the city also noted rippling missteps by law enforcement but defended the actions of local police, which sparked anger from victims’ families.

“For two long years, we have languished in pain and without any accountability from the law enforcement agencies and officers who allowed our families to be destroyed that day,” said Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed. “This settlement reflects a first good faith effort, particularly by the City of Uvalde, to begin rebuilding trust in the systems that failed to protect us.”

Koskoff has also represented the families of children killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut.

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