In the face of calls for his resignation Thursday, Texas Department of Public Safety Director Col. Steven McCraw did not step down, saying at a meeting of the agency’s oversight board that his officers “did not fail the community” of Uvalde during a May mass shooting in which 19 fourth-graders and two teachers were killed.
“If DPS as an institution failed the families, failed the school, or failed the community of Uvalde, then absolutely, I need to go,” McCraw said at Thursday’s meeting of the Texas Public Safety Commission. “But I can tell you this right now: DPS as an institution right now did not fail the community, plain and simple.”
McCraw’s comments, which came moments after several of the victims’ families demanded he resign, follow the referral of seven DPS officers for investigation by the agency’s inspector general for what they did – or didn’t do – as a gunman killed 21 people at Robb Elementary in the worst US school shooting in nearly a decade.
While nearly 400 officers from DPS and 22 other agencies responded May 24 to the Uvalde campus starting within minutes of the first gunshots, law enforcement waited 77 minutes – in violation of commonly held active shooter protocol and training – before breaching adjoining classrooms to find the victims and kill the 18-year-old gunman.
“It’s been five months and three days since my son, his classmates and his teachers were murdered,” said Brett Cross, who was helping raise his 10-year-old nephew Uziyah Garcia before the boy was killed in the shooting.
But while the clock keeps ticking, Cross said, “Several numbers remain the same: It was 77 minutes that 91 of you all’s officers waited outside while our children were slaughtered.
“We’re not waiting any longer. Our families, our community, our state has waited long enough. And playing politics will only put the lives of more Texans at risk,” Cross said, adding, “I expect … your resignation immediately.”
Cross reiterated his call for McCraw to resign – or be fired by the governor – on “Anderson Cooper 360°.”
“He just refuses to do what is right, and it is, it is disgusting,” he told Cooper. “How are we supposed to trust, you know, as Texans, these officers of his when he set the bar at children being murdered as not being a failure.”
McCraw, who had previously vowed to “tender (his) resignation to the governor” if his department is found to have any culpability, did not provide more details on his agency’s internal review of the response, only reiterating that every DPS officer on the scene would be evaluated.
One officer, McCraw said, had resigned while under investigation and is not eligible to return to the department, while another person is “under the termination process right now.”
However, while McCraw admitted Thursday that his agency was not without fault – acknowledging its officers were on the scene within minutes of the shooting starting – he did not immediately offer to resign.
Thursday’s session began with a public comment period, with five minutes per speaker, starting with state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde and said calls for McCraw’s resignation are warranted.
Pointing not only to the errors of officers the day of the shooting, but the cascade of false information DPS put out in the weeks after, Gutierrez said the shooting “shattered” Texans’ belief “we could trust the word and the actions of law enforcement – especially the Department of Public Safety.”
In a statement, Lives Robbed, a group formed by some of the victims’ loved ones, expressed disappointment about Thursday’s meeting, indicating it fell short of their expectations.
“Today, The Department of Public Safety promised an update into their investigation of the Robb Elementary School shooting. That did not happen,” the statement said. “Instead, in a bait and switch, they hosted a glorified press conference and once again refused to accept responsibility for their failures.”
“We will not allow the Department to co-opt our grief, and the death of our children. We call upon the Department of Public Safety and the Commission to provide a real update of their investigation, and for it to be hosted in the community impacted by this tragic event,” it said.
Cross told CNN the meeting was ridiculous and, “I’m upset that DPS continues to waste our time. … They don’t tell us anything.”
The meeting comes as the scourge of US school shootings shows no signs of abating, with at least 67 such attacks reported this year on US campuses, including a high school student and a teacher killed Monday in St. Louis.
DPS scrutinized since initial narrative fell apart
McCraw’s remarks did little to assuage the anger of the victims’ families, some of whom addressed the director before the meeting took a brief recess and moved on to other business.
Cross pressed the director on his comments stating he would resign if DPS was culpable, asking McCraw, “So your officers were in there within 10 minutes. Correct?”
“Yes,” McCraw said.
“Are they not representatives of your department?” Cross continued.
“Absolutely,” said McCraw.
“Therefore, they failed?” Cross asked.
“Absolutely,” said McCraw.
“Therefore, DPS failed, therefore, there is culpability,” Cross said. “Therefore, if you’re a man of your word, then you would retire.”
Thursday’s meeting marked McCraw’s first public testimony about the bloodshed in Uvalde since June when, before a state Senate committee, he labeled the shooting response an “abject failure” – but placed blame largely on local and school district police, including that agency’s chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo, who state authorities have said was the incident commander.
Arredondo, who has denied he was in that role, was fired in August – a move his attorney called an “unconstitutional public lynching,” adding Arredondo should be reinstated, with all back pay and benefits.
Arredondo was one of five school district officers at Robb Elementary, while DPS had 91 personnel respond to the shooting – the most except for the US Border Patrol, according to a July report by a state House of Representatives investigative committee.
The agency increasingly has been scrutinized for its role in the response to the tragedy, beginning as its initial narrative of it unraveled within days of the bloodshed and expanding when body camera footage revealed to CNN that a DPS trooper arrived at Robb Elementary earlier than agency leaders would acknowledge publicly.
After an internal review of the actions of each DPS officer on the scene, seven were referred by the agency for investigation by the agency’s inspector general.
Among them is state police Capt. Joel Betancourt, who tried to delay a team of officers from entering the classrooms, telling investigators he thought a more skilled team was on its way, CNN has reported.
Also included is Texas Ranger Christopher Ryan Kindell, who sources said told investigators he was focused on providing his bosses with updates and did not discuss options to breach the classrooms. He is seen in footage from surveillance cameras and body cameras speaking on the phone and, at one time, apparently offering to negotiate with the gunman.
McCraw has denounced similar attempts at negotiation by Arredondo, calling it the “wrong decision.”
Another of the seven, Sgt. Juan Maldonado, was served termination papers, DPS said Friday, with sources confirming to CNN his firing was the result of his role in the response the day of the shooting.
And former DPS trooper Crimson Elizondo took a job this summer with the school district police force, but was fired after CNN revealed she was among those being investigated.
Each of these officers has either declined to comment or not responded when contacted by CNN.
The Public Safety Commission now includes four members – all appointed by Gov. Greg Abbott. Many Uvalde victims’ families, meantime, have been campaigning for Beto O’Rourke, Abbott’s Democratic rival who has invoked the Uvalde response in arguing the governor’s tenure should end.