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Justice Department's Uvalde Report Cites Critical Failures In Leadership Among Specific Law Enforcement Officers. Aired 12:30-1p ET

Aired January 18, 2024 - 12:30   ET



VANITA GUPTA, ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY GENERAL: They made nine visits to Uvalde for a total of 54 days in this community. They conducted more than 260 interviews of individuals from more than 30 organizations and agencies, including responding law enforcement and survivors, family members, victim services providers and school and hospital staff.

They traveled throughout the country to review generally accepted practices and contemporary active shooter training courses. Other organizations and news outlets have documented parts of what happened on this horrific day. But all of this work has led to a Justice Department report that is both the most detailed and broadest in scope, looking beyond the immediate incident to include the communications, victim services, and school safety aspects of this tragedy, as well as the post-incident response and investigation and pre-incident planning and preparation.

The public demands a lot from law enforcement, and we often take their service for granted. Every day, police officers run towards danger to keep people safe. In Uvalde on May 24th, 2022, that did not happen until far too late. Uvalde is a community that is healing, and getting clear on the facts is part of healing.

So too are the beautiful, powerful murals all over this city, commemorating each child and teacher killed on May 24th. And so too is enacting change in policies and practices to help make sure these failures do not happen again. While it took time for the Justice Department to examine the facts and put this report together, our commitment to the Uvalde community does not end here.

Through available funding, resources, victim services, technical assistance, and training, we will support Uvalde and communities across the country in their efforts to prevent and address violence. Just as we have looked back, we will look forward. We are committed to honoring the memories of the lives of -- that were lost here by working to build a future where all of our children, their loved ones and their teachers can feel cared for, supported and protected.

I will now pass this to Hugh Clements, the director of our COPS Office.

HIGH CLEMENTS JR., COPS DIRECTOR: Good morning, and thank you Mr. Attorney General and Associate Gupta. I know that nothing can take away the pain suffered by the families, the survivors in the entire Uvalde community. But I do know that the team at the COPS Office has been driven to provide an authoritative accounting of everything that transpired at Robb Elementary on May 24th, as well as the events leading up to it, and an examination of what happened afterward.

As someone with 38 years' experience in law enforcement -- and 12 of those as Chief of the Providence Police Department -- I know the importance of having the right policies in place, the right training, and the right partnerships -- especially law enforcement partnerships with schools, communities, and other agencies and first responders. This report stresses the importance of those working relationships and how invaluable they are, especially when there's a critical incident.

Of course, no one ever thinks something like this is going to happen in their community, until it does; which is why the recommendations we provide in this report are so critically important.

Unfortunately, the review of the mass shooting at Robb Elementary School is not the first Critical Incident Review that the COPS Office has conducted. But having done this before, we know the value of the information provided.

(Technical difficulty) include the reports on the terrorist shooting in San Bernardino, California, and the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. We heard from the agencies involved how valuable these reports were and we know from talking to agencies across the country how they have incorporated the recommendations shared into their own planning.

We have seen how vitally important preparation is, how important it is to have the right policies and procedures in place, how incredibly important training is, and how critical it is that agencies train together.

Reviews such as this can be tremendously helpful and important to both law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve. As they work together to see how they can improve policies, procedures, systems, and most importantly relationships. We talk about that and much, much more in this report, which I know is going to be a very important resource for law enforcement agencies in the months and years to come.


You will see in this report that the team has worked diligently in carrying out a number of critical steps, including developing a complete incident reconstruction, reviewing thousands of relevant documents, conducting site visits, and interviewing a wide variety of stakeholders.

As I said, we know that nothing can take away that pain that this community has endured. But we were dedicated to providing the community with a transparent, independent, and thorough review of what happened, and I believe that this report does just that.

Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Inaudible Question)

MERRICK GARLAND, ATTORNEY GENERAL: So the report is an analysis of what happened at Uvalde, including by everyone at Uvalde, all responding agencies. It concludes that this was a failure of leadership, and so all members of the leadership who were at -- who failed, were identified. It also identifies individual officers by rank and by what agency they're from.

But the standard practice of the Justice Department in these critical incident reviews is not to name those who are not listed as at fault, and particularly not to name those in lower ranks who acted on the scene.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Attorney General --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have two questions for you, Mr. Attorney General. Your report here names Pete Arredondo and Mariano Pargas as leaders in this incident that happened at Robb Elementary. Had they acted in a way that was put out as guidelines after the Columbine shooting, would lives have been saved on May 24th?

GARLAND: I think the report concludes that had law enforcement agencies followed generally accepted practices in an active shooter situation and gone right after the shooter to stop him. Lives would have been saved and people would have survived.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My second question for you, sir. Based on this report, we know at this point no criminal charges have been filed against anyone who responded that day. Based on what you all found in this report, should the Uvalde County District Attorney file any criminal charges for the law enforcement officers who responded that day?

GARLAND: I'm going to leave that question for the DA just to explain for everyone. The Justice Department only has criminal jurisdiction where federal crime has occurred. The shooter here is dead, and there's no federal -- criminal jurisdiction. What we've done is responded to the mayor's request for -- that mayor's request for a critical incident response examination to determine the manner in which the agencies responded and to provide recommendations for the future. And that's what we've done.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Mr. Attorney General, you identified one of the objectives of this analysis to provide law enforcement agencies with recommendations in their nearly 300. What -- which recommendations do you think law enforcement agencies should undertake immediately? What's the most urgent issues?

GARLAND: The most significant failure and therefore the most significant and urgent thing for law enforcement to do is active shooter training, which provides that when an active shooter is in a building or anywhere else, the first priority is to stop that shooter and to remove people who are immediately endangered by that shooter. And that requires tactical training. That's the first thing. I'd say the second thing is critical incident response. Establishing who's going to be the on-site commander. Making clear to all other agencies that that person will be the on-site commander. That again requires training and practice and response.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Last -- go ahead. One more and then last.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Should joint training be mandated across the country?

GARLAND: I'm not sure what the word mandated here means. I think it's absolutely necessary that any circumstance where there's going to be more than one agency responding, and that's going to be in any school situation. All the possible agencies should train together in order to establish lines of communication, command structure and communications structure in particular.


Here radios were not interactive. People did not have a way to talk to each other. And make sure that everybody's following the same strategy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attorney General, some have suggested that our police response was typical for a mass shooting, in fact, even better than in many cases. And they used the Pulse nightclub event as a comparison. It took three hours to go in and put down that killer, and there were phone calls back and forth. How do you speak to that?

GARLAND: So actually, I'll let Hugh talk about, specifically about the Pulse nightclub. But I will say that what I've described and what the report describes is clearly the generally accepted response to an active shooter. This is -- we did a survey across the country, and the experts who are involved in this examination are experts in exactly this subject of active shooter.

And there's no doubt that the standard practice is the one I've described. And I'm going to let Hugh answer that specific question.

CLEMENTS: I would say, honestly, I don't know if that's entirely true. I will tell you this report is comprehensive, it's extensive. I urge you all to read it the executive summary. All hundreds of pages. I will say there was an epic, complete lack of leadership, unity of command. There was no incident command set up. That's not the case with the Pulse nightclub.

And so, in this particular one, in comparison, that is not entirely true. And the response was a failure of leadership.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great. Thank you, everyone.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, everyone.

DANA BASH, CNN ANCHOR: We have been listening to a absolutely devastating, detailed explanation of a more than 500 page report prepared by and released by the Department of Justice today about what happened in Uvalde, Texas, in May of 2022, when 19 children, two adults, were murdered while law enforcement stood by outside for 77 minutes and allowed the shooter, the 18-year-old shooter, to continue to murder children.

And the way that the attorney general described the details of the very, very complicated failure by law enforcement, followed up by the failure -- of the medical response. All of which meant that people who were shot, people who were killed, mostly children, 10 and 11 and 12- year-old children. So much of it could have been prevented.

I want to bring in Shimon Prokupecz, who was in the room there, and I just want to underscore led the way in pushing for answers from law enforcement on a local level. These law enforcement officials, local officials beyond law enforcement, who were not giving proper answers to the families, which is now acknowledged in this detailed report by the Justice Department and was just done again publicly by the attorney general in a really extraordinary press conference.

Shimon, as I come to you, I just want to give a couple of the lines that the attorney general used that really sum up this horrific, horrific failure. "Had law enforcement followed the accepted practices" -- what was started after Columbine, the shooting in Columbine back in 1999 -- "lives would have been saved and people would have survived." Shimon?

SHIMON PROKUPECZ, CNN CRIME AND JUSTICE CORRESPONDENT: That's a pretty significant thing to say. I mean, that's been the big question, right? And law enforcement here has not wanted to talk about that. And that takes us to another level, because then you have to start wondering whether or not there's enough now to bring criminal charges.

And you have the attorney general of the United States saying that if these officers had acted properly, leadership, lives would have been saved. You know, I've had a lot of access to material here. I've talked to the kids that were inside that room. There were people alive. They were in bad conditions. They were shot. Some of them were on their last breaths, but they were breathing, they were alive. And had the police officers gone in there sooner, those lives could have been saved, including one of the kids. So that is a significant part of this.


And just to hear, again, Dana, you know, having lived this story, being around his family, some of them were here. And you could see, you know, I looked back at one point, some of them had tears in their eyes. They've been crying every day. And part of what they've been crying for is to just get some closure, to get information, to reach a point where they feel like they're being respected and treated well, and they haven't been in this community. And I think the Justice Department coming here and doing this is helpful for them. But it's in no way, you know, I know that the healing process, you know, is so important for these families. But they're nowhere close, nowhere near the end of the closure that they need, because still to this day, there's a district attorney in this county who doesn't answer their questions and is dragging this investigation, the criminal investigation.

And there's also questions about -- and the attorney general wouldn't take my question here on this, but I really want to understand why they did not say more about the Texas Department of Public Safety, which had the largest number of law enforcement officers outside of the CBP, the Customs and Border Patrol.

They had the largest number of officers on scene, some of them very senior, very experienced, with all sorts of equipment and capabilities and training, and yet they stood around and waited for a school chief to tell them what to do. Hard to believe. And that's something that they don't really talk about in the report.

BASH: Yes.

PROKUPECZ: And it was the Texas Department of Public Safety that sort of led this whole miscommunication and this narrative that there were heroic efforts here when in the end, it was all obviously unraveled.

So, look, there's so much more to learn here. And I think for these families, to see them here, meeting with the attorney general last night, hearing this press conference, I definitely think is a step for them in the right direction.

BASH: Well, that's good to hear. You're right, that was one of the many questions, the detailed questions not answered. I know that you're going to be as dogged as you have been over the past year and a half about this, but I think the overall explanation in this report and in this press conference is that there was no clear command structure.

And clearly the person who was believed to have been in charge, just to be blunt about it, didn't know what they were doing. Shimon, I want you to stand by because we're going to go to a press conference that includes lawyers for the families of survivors and victims.

JOSHUA KOSKOFF, LAWYER, KOSKOFF, KOSKOFF AND BIEDER: -- who is representing with the gravest of concerns, these families, along with my wonderful co-counsel, Erin Rosiers (ph). Erin, spell your name.


KOSKOFF: And so Erin and I, we've been asked by 17 families, 16 of whom have lost children, to investigate and evaluate potential legal action. And in a moment, we'll turn to the families and they'll tell you what their response is to what they've learned and what they are still learning.

Understand that the report has not been made available, but for about an hour or two, and it is voluminous, as you've heard. So these -- most of our reaction is really based on what we heard from the attorney general and his team last night.

And so I want to talk about three things. The first thing I want to say is that the families appreciate the attorney general's commitment to seeing this investigation through. For families in this situation, transparency and comfort. And knowing that your government or your state is listening to you and are concerned about what you and your families went through is critically important.

They haven't gotten a lot of that from the state of Texas. So for them, that is very much appreciated. And it was clear not just that the DOJ has taken this investigation very seriously, but that the attorney general himself, I think you saw it, has expressed great empathy, and that's also very appreciated by the families.

There are limitations, though. These families didn't need a 400 or 500 page government report to learn that law enforcement failed them in a historic way. They didn't need the report to tell them that law enforcement violated its most sacred responsibility, and that is to protect our children in a time of great need.


They didn't need that. Why didn't they need that? Because they were there. Some had AR-15s pointed at them as they desperately tried to help when law enforcement wouldn't. They were there as their children were being killed while law enforcement was paralyzed, paralyzed. They were there.

So they did not need to learn that. But the details of the investigation will come out for whatever value they provide. It's important to understand what is go back and -- let's just refresh our recollection about what happened that day. Within minutes, really, hundreds of heavily armed law enforcement officers were there from all different agencies.

The DEA was there. The border patrol was there. The Uvalde police were there. The school police were there. The county police were there. Texas marshals were there. It was a convergence of heavily armed and mostly very well trained law enforcement agents.

And you would think that they were fighting to protect a major army from invading us on our borders as we would like our law enforcement to protect us. But who was on the other side of this epic battle? What were they afraid of? Were they afraid of an 18-year-old kid?

This 18-year-old, let's remember, was about 5'5" or 5'6". He was 140 pounds soaking wet. Were they really afraid of this kid? No. They were afraid of his weapon. And it turns out that even -- well, some of these well trained officers are human beings. And guess what, we've learned from this event, from Parkland and other events where law enforcement got cold feet.

These people were scared. They were scared because they're human beings and they were scared of getting killed. And they waited around while somebody else was going to be brave enough to intervene.

The questions that are not answered in this report are more significantly more important than the questions that are. This 18- year-old kid was able to walk into a store down the street and acquire a military weapon, a Daniel Defense AR-15. And within about a week, he acquired another one.

The day he turned 18, he had made his decision long in advance. In fact, he had ordered 30 -- or, sorry, rather 60 30-round magazines, and they were delivered to his home. How did that happen? Where's the government investigation on how this kid got this firepower?

The other thing that happened is he ordered over 1,700 rounds of ammunition from an online ammo dealer. How could that happen? How could that happen? Where's the investigation into that? How did this 18-year-old kid even know enough to know how to equip himself in this way? What happened?

What are the means by which gun companies are marketing these weapons to our children? How are they reaching them? Where's the role of marketing and the gun companies in this report? There's no fault or investigation whatsoever. The truth is you can respond to an active shooting, but let's not dilute ourselves. You might be able to save a few lives, but we can't accept that that's the best we can do.

Over 12 years ago, or about 12 years ago, almost 12 years ago, after the Sandy Hook shooting, shattered families went to the United States Senate and they begged, they pleaded, they said to our elected officials, it's too late for us. Our children were just killed by a kid, a troubled kid under 21, who used an AR-15 to kill our children.

They said, help us. You can't help us, but you can help us by helping others. You can help us by help. And Congress turned their back on the Sandy Hook families. And Congress turned their back on the Sandy Hook families.

And because of that -- and by the way, the Sandy Hook families weren't the only families to plead, to beg, to say, let's protect our children. There were other families. Every mass shooting that occurs, almost, there are families pleading with the government to do something.

Parkland families said the same thing. They said, OK, how about now? How about now?


Let's limit the access to these weapons to children, to kids, 18, 19, 20 years old. And Congress thumbed their nose at this Parkland families. And Merrick, the attorney general is here. He's done a -- nobody can fault the attorney general for his commitment to this or his concern for these families. It's very moving, and his entire office, and I applaud them in this effort.

But the attorney general wouldn't be here, none of his team would be here, I wouldn't be standing here. Most importantly, these wonderful families wouldn't be here, standing here pleading, talking about what happened that day. You wouldn't be here.

But if Congress had just listened, if the Senate just listened to the Sandy Hook families, if they had just listened to Parkland, you know who would be here? Eva Mireles, Irma Garcia, Uziyah Garcia, Xavier Lopez. Amerie Jo Garza, Jose Flores Jr. Alithia Ramirez, Annabell Guadalupe Rodriguez, Eliahna Torres, Eliahna Garcia, Rojelio Torres, Jacqueline Cazares, Jailah Nicole, sorry, Silguero, Jayce Luevanos, Lexi Rubio, Tes Mata, McKenna Elrod, Nevaeh -- excuse me, Nevaeh Bravo, Layla Salazar, Maite Rodriguez, and Miranda Mathis.

Think about that. This shooting doesn't happen if our government had just listened to these families, or if -- and not just our government, but if the state of Texas had just even done the paltry thing of making it, even raising the age to 21, they would all be alive. And isn't that such a small price to pay?

Yes. I'm going to turn it over now -- sorry? Yes, yes. We're going to turn it over now to our wonderful families who would like to speak and express themselves. And I'll introduce Kimberly Rubio.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We'll let a few families speak and then we'll do questions at the end, OK?

KIMBERLY RUBIO, MOTHER OF THE VICTIM AT SANDY HOOK: Reading this report this morning, I read that Pete directed officers intending to gain entry into the classroom to stop. That no leader effectively questioned the decision and lack of urgency of UCISDPD Chief Arredondo and UPD Chief Mariano Pargas toward entering classrooms 111 and 112.

And that leadership can arise regardless of rank and title. I hope that the failures end today and that local officials do what wasn't done that day. Do right by the victims and survivors of Robb Elementary, terminations, criminal prosecutions. And our state and federal government enact sensible gun laws because Robb Elementary began the day an 18-year-old wasn't allowed to purchase an AR-15.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Most importantly, from what we've seen with this report, and, you know, I commend the DOJ on doing this, is that although there isn't every name of the officers that were there so that we can hold them accountable, because we have to do our own digging, most of the time, there are names that are named.

And it is time -- because our community is so divided because of this, because they don't want to believe that the people that they grew up with failed our children, and they stand against us. I'm hoping that they read this and they see Johnny Phil's (ph) name, or Mariano Pargas, who is a county commissioner right now, or Constable Zamora, who is running for reelection.

There are names in there, and the community needs to see this. And you all need -- because the DOJ stamp is on there, maybe you all will start taking us seriously now, instead of telling us to move on, telling us to sweep it under the rug and not doing a damn thing about it.

We need our community.