Days after report cleared officers in massacre at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde police chief announces resignation

Mar 12, 2024, 12:46 PM

former uvalde mayor shown, uvalde police chief announced resignation...

Former Uvalde mayor, Don McLaughlin, is interviewed by CNN on Monday, March 11. CNN via CNN Newsource

(CNN) — Hours before the Uvalde City Council was expected to reject a report clearing local police officers of wrongdoing during the Robb Elementary School massacre, the city’s police chief abruptly announced he is quitting.

Chief Daniel Rodriguez was not in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, when a teenage gunman was left unchallenged in the school for 77 minutes, but had assigned Lt. Mariano Pargas to be acting chief that day.

Pargas was at the school within minutes but failed to take on a command role or act to save children trapped with the shooter, even when he was told of a child calling from the classroom to say students were still alive and needed help.

Rodriguez returned to Uvalde and remained head of the force.

His resignation is effective April 6th.

The former mayor of Uvalde, Texas, has also rejected the report’s findings, saying the examination didn’t answer the community’s questions and only left families more devastated.

An independent investigator hired by the city reported his findings on Thursday at a packed city council meeting, announcing he found all the officers who responded to the school from the Uvalde Police Department should be exonerated. The findings enraged parents and families who pleaded for accountability nearly two years after the attack.

The view of the investigator, Jesse Prado, contradicts reports from the Department of Justice and the Texas House of Representatives that there were multiple failures with the law enforcement operation that left a gunman unchallenged in a school for 77 minutes. Nineteen children and two teachers died.

“I don’t think it gave anybody any answers,” the city’s former mayor, Don McLaughlin, told CNN. “We’re no better off than when we started.”

Worse, the controversial report may have set the community back, he said.

“It ripped the wound wide open again. Instead of a tear, it’s gushed wide open now.”

The pain and passion of the bereaved families and survivors is likely to be visible again on Tuesday as the Uvalde City Council meets to address the report.

McLaughlin said his intention and that of his former colleagues on the city council in commissioning the report was to find out what happened on May 24, 2022, and make things better for the future.

“We weren’t getting transparency,” he said. “The [Texas Department of Public Safety] changed the story five different times in the first four days and then we’re not getting any information from anybody, as the city, as we’re trying to go forward.

“We wanted an outside investigator so we know what our officers did and so we could see what mistakes were made. There’s no question that mistakes were made that day.”

McLaughlin, who stepped down as mayor last November to run for a seat in the Texas House, said every officer with a leadership position contributed to the failed response and that all the agencies – local, state and federal – should come together to identify the mistakes.

“I’ve said from Day One, we’re all big boys, we need to lay our cards on the table and take our lumps. Everybody.”

But instead of transparency, some records still have not been released, 22 months after the killings. Some of that is because local District Attorney Christina Mitchell wanted no one to put out or discuss matters until she had completed her own inquiry. A grand jury was empaneled in January and multiple law enforcement officers have been called to testify.

“There’s no question in my mind: Leadership failed,” McLaughlin said. “I do believe that if those officers had been told to go in, they would have gone in. I also think they were put on hold early on … and nobody ever counteracted that order.”

The title page of the report by Prado says it was “prepared in anticipation of litigation and/or for use in trial.”

McLaughlin told CNN it was never intended as any kind of shield.

“The whole point of using this report was not to insulate me from a lawsuit or the city from a lawsuit or anybody else. It was just so we’d know what our officers did and so we’d be able to look you in the eye as the parents and the citizens of our community and say, ‘This is what we did that day.’”

The Prado report was met with shock, dismay and anger by both members of the council and community last week.

Veronica Mata, whose 10-year-old daughter Tess was killed, addressed Prado about his views of officers’ actions that day: “You said that they did it in good faith. You call that good faith? They stood there 77 minutes and waited after they got call after call that kids were still alive in there.”

Councilmember Hector Luevano said he thought there would be accountability. “I am insulted, Mr. Prado. These families are insulted by your comments,” he said, eliciting cheers from the audience. “The families deserve more. This community deserves more.”

Councilmember Ernest “Chip” W. King III told residents he, too, was disappointed with the findings.

“I’ve been shaking for the last hour. I’m so pissed off about what happened,” he said. “We’ve not seen the report. This is the first time we’ve heard it… But I assure you this is not what we wanted and this did not happen how we thought it would happen.”

CNN’s Christina Maxouris contributed to this story.

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Days after report cleared officers in massacre at Robb Elementary School, Uvalde police chief announces resignation