Former Uvalde mayor is surprised a new report defends how police responded to school shooting

The former mayor of Uvalde, Texas, says he's surprised a new investigative report cleared all city officers of wrongdoing in one of the deadliest classroom shootings in U.S. history

Sean Murphy
Friday 08 March 2024 23:51 GMT

The former Uvalde mayor who ordered an investigation into actions by local police during the Robb Elementary School shooting said Friday he was surprised the report defended officers and believes the acting chief on the scene failed during the 2022 massacre.

"What I’ve seen so far, it’s not quite what I was expecting,” said Don McLaughlin, who stepped down as mayor of the small Texas city last year and is now the Republican nominee for a seat in the state Legislature.

The independent report released Thursday was commissioned by the city to determine if any of the 28 Uvalde Police Department officers and three dispatchers violated department policy in their response to the shooter who killed 19 students and two teachers. Nearly 400 law enforcement agents, including Uvalde police, rushed to the school but waited more than an hour to confront the teenage gunman who was inside a fourth-grade classroom with an AR-style rifle.

The new report, which acknowledged missteps but ultimately defended the actions of local police, prompted outrage from several family members of the victims during a City Council presentation. One person in the audience screamed “Coward!” and some family members angrily walked out of the meeting.

McLaughlin, who ordered the independent probe in the weeks following the shooting, said that although he had not read the entire 180-page report he was surprised by some of its findings. He singled out the actions of former Uvalde Lt. Mariano Pargas, who was the city's acting police chief at the time.

In January, a sweeping Justice Department report criticized six responding officers from Uvalde police, including Pargas, for not advancing down a school hallway to engage the shooter. Federal investigators also said in that report that Pargas “continued to provide no direction, command or control to personnel" for nearly an hour after the shooter entered the classroom.

Jesse Prado, a former police officer and investigator for the Austin Police Department who conducted the inquiry for the City of Uvalde, noted that Pargas retired from the job just days after his interview. But he said if he had remained, “it would be my recommendation and my team’s recommendation to exonerate Lt. Pargas.”

McLaughlin said he disagreed with those findings.

“I'm not speaking on behalf of anyone else ... but in my opinion, Mariano Pargas failed that day as acting chief," McLaughlin said.

“That part I heard — that they said they exonerated him — I disagree with that," he said.

Pargas, an 18-year UPD veteran, was acting chief on the day of the shooting because Chief Daniel Rodriguez was out of town on vacation. Phone and email messages left Friday with Pargas, who has since been elected as a Uvalde county commissioner, were not immediately returned.

In the nearly two years since the shooting, families have accused police of a leadership void during the 77 minutes that elapsed between the gunman's arrival and police confronting him.

Others criticized for their actions during the shooting also remain in elected office. Uvalde County Sheriff Ruben Nolasco advanced to a runoff during Tuesday's GOP primary and county constable Emmanuel Zamora defeated his Republican challenger outright.

Prado's report was also highly critical of the district attorney for Uvalde County, Christina Mitchell, who the investigator accused of hindering the inquiry by refusing to share reports and evidence gathered by other law enforcement agencies.

McLaughlin blamed Mitchell for the report taking nearly two years to complete. Mitchell did not return phone and email messages seeking comment Friday.

“The district attorney has blocked this every way,” he said. “I don’t know what her agenda is.

“I understand she has an investigation, but you can still run an investigation and be transparent.”

A criminal investigation into the law enforcement response remains open and a grand jury was summoned earlier this year.

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