Texas DPS director says he wishes his agency had taken control of police response to Uvalde shooting

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As the state’s top law enforcement agency comes under scrutiny for its role in the botched police response to the mass shooting at a school in Uvalde in May, the director of the agency’s Steve McCraw told USA Today that he wanted state troopers to have taken control of the operation.

McCraw, who spoke to the outlet for a lengthy interview published on Sunday, widely blamed local police for not acting quickly to arrest the shooter. The director of the Texas Department of Public Safety previously told lawmakers he didn’t think it was possible for soldiers to take command, but when asked by USA Today why his agency didn’t took the reins of the police response, McCraw said, “I wish we had it.”

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Law enforcement waited more than an hour to confront the shooter who killed 21 people at Robb Elementary School on May 24, unlike active shooter training which teaches officers to take down a shooter as soon as possible.

Of the 376 officers who descended on the school, 91 were state troopers. The state agency has played a prominent role in previous tragedies, including the 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in West and the 2018 high school shooting in Santa Fe.

An investigation by The Texas Tribune and ProPublica found that McCraw and DPS largely avoided scrutiny and shifted blame into the agency’s response to the shooting, in part by controlling which recordings are released and shaping a narrative that called the local police incompetent. The state agency declined to answer questions from the Tribune and ProPublica for three months.

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On Tuesday, the DPS announced it would formally investigate five soldiers for their conduct in the shooting and said two of them had been suspended with pay. The DPS told USA Today on Friday that two other officers are under investigation. Two of the seven soldiers under investigation are command staff, the outlet reported.

[DPS Director Steve McCraw tells CNN he’ll resign if troopers had “any culpability” in delayed Uvalde shooting response]

McCraw also gave more details about DPS’s actions on the day of filming. When McCraw learned of the shooting, he said he ordered Victor Escalon, the DPS regional manager for South Texas, to the scene. McCraw has previously declined to comment on how he communicated with Escalon, whose chaotic press conference two days after the shooting raised questions for the first time about conflicting information officials had shared about the response of security forces. order. McCraw recently claimed that Escalon was not going to be fired and that Escalon’s actions that day were appropriate.

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Additionally, McCraw told USA Today that the agency’s first captain was not at the scene until 12:25 p.m., about an hour after the clash began. But records reviewed by the Tribune show a DPS special agent arrived about 20 minutes after filming began.

In the aftermath of the shooting, McCraw shifted blame for the unorganized and late police response to Pete Arredondo, the Uvalde Schools Police Chief who was fired last month. McCraw said in Senate testimony in June that Arredondo was the only obstacle between armed police and the 18-year-old shooter.

But McCraw recently told CNN he would resign if investigations into the shooting conclude the soldiers had “any culpability” in the late response.

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In an internal email to DPS employees in June, McCraw said each responding agency shared responsibility for failures in the shooting. DPS training would be updated to provide proper guidance for recognizing and overcoming poor leadership decisions during active shooter emergencies, the email said.

The internal DPS email came after a Texas House Committee report criticized law enforcement, including the DPS, for failing to offer Arredondo assistance to the command of the incident.

In minutes from a meeting of state police captains in mid-August, McCraw reportedly said “no one is going to lose their jobs” based on the response to the shooting, and that all leaders of the region “did what they were supposed to do and stepped up to meet the moment. McCraw recently told CNN that he was misquoted and that his comments only referred to Escalon, the regional director of the DPS.

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The full schedule is now LIVE for the 2022 Texas Tribune Festival, taking place September 22-24 in Austin. Explore the timeline of over 100 insightful conversations coming to TribFest, including the inside track on the 2022 election and 2023 legislative session, the state of public and higher education at this point in the pandemic, why Texas suburbs are booming, why broadband access matters, the legacy of slavery, what really happened in Uvalde and much more. See the program.

Correction, September 11, 2022: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that the Texas Department of Public Safety suspended two unpaid soldiers for their conduct in the Uvalde shooting. Both officers were suspended with pay.

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