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​Uvalde Police Will Face More Active Shooter Training as Part of $2 Million Settlement Between City and Families

by Lomi Kriel, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune and Berenice Garcia, The Texas Tribune

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This article is co-published with The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan local newsroom that informs and engages with Texans. Sign up for The Brief Weekly to get up to speed on their essential coverage of Texas issues.

The city of Uvalde, Texas, will overhaul police training and hiring policies as well as support more mental health services for survivors of the 2022 massacre at Robb Elementary School as part of a settlement with the families of 19 victims announced just two days before the second anniversary of the shooting.

Attorneys for the families said in a news conference this week that the city will also pay $2 million in restitution and help construct a permanent memorial.

The settlement is the first to be reached with families as lawsuits pile up against local and state officials and companies, including the manufacturer of the killer’s weapon, over the school shooting in which 19 children and two teachers died. Among the key failures that it seeks to address is providing sufficient training for law enforcement to respond to a mass shooting.

City officials did not respond to questions seeking more details about the settlement, which included anagreement to implement a new “fitness for duty” standard for local police officers in coordination with the Justice Department and committed to providing enhanced training for police. But they issued a statement saying they were thankful to have arrived at an agreement “that will allow us to remember the Robb Elementary tragedy while moving forward together as a community to bring healing and restoration to all those affected.”

Legal action could have bankrupted the city of Uvalde, which the families did not want, according to attorneys, who added that the details of the settlement, specifically those related to training, are still being finalized. A separate agreement is being negotiated with Uvalde County, which had 16 deputies responding, including the sheriff, according to attorneys.

Most civil settlements in mass shootings are with private companies and therefore tend to be confidential, so the public rarely learns what they entail, said Jaclyn Schildkraut, executive director of the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium at the Rockefeller Institute of Government, a public policy think tank in Albany, New York.

While in some high-profile cases, the public may learn about the financial payoff, Schildkraut said that she has never heard of a legal settlement including a stipulation for more training. When there have been recommendations or changes related to training, as occurred after the 1999 Columbine school shooting, they tend to come from law enforcement or local, state or federal authorities. She said that the families agreeing to a settlement with such specific training stipulations in the Uvalde case demonstrates that “it was never about the money.”

“It was about accountability and making it better so that it doesn’t happen again,” said Schildkraut, who has studied mass shootings for 17 years. “And so I think in that respect, if that was their goal, to have their loved ones not have died in vain with no change, then that absolutely is a positive.”

Though hundreds of officers descended on the elementary school on May 24, 2022, none confronted the shooter for 77 minutes, wrongly treating the situation as one with a barricaded suspect instead of an active threat even as children and teachers pleaded with 911 dispatchers for help. They failed to follow multiple best practices taught as part of active shooter training, including setting up a clear command structure.

An investigation published in December by ProPublica, The Texas Tribune and FRONTLINE found that about 72% of the at least 116 state and local officers who arrived at the school before the gunman was killed had received some form of active shooter training during their careers. A majority, however, had only taken it once, which is not enough, according to law enforcement experts. Federal officials declined to provide their training records to the news organizations or to the Justice Department, which released a separate review a month later.

The news organizations analyzed training requirements across the country, which revealed that children are required to train more often for the possibility of a school shooting than law enforcement officers.

During a press conference in Uvalde, Josh Koskoff, the families’ attorney, said the state’s failure to prevent the deaths began long before the shooting occurred. He said Texas failed to provide small communities like Uvalde, a city of about 15,000 people, with enough resources to train their officers.

“You think the city of Uvalde has enough money, or training, or resources? You think they can hire the best of the best?” Koskoff said. “As far as the state of Texas is concerned, it sounds like their position is: ‘You’re on your own.’”

Attorneys said they are working with Uvalde families who plan to file additional lawsuits before the statute of limitations for such cases ends Friday. The lawyers announced the first of those suits on Wednesday.

The new federal lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety, the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District, an energy management company and a telecommunications company seeks at least $500 million in damages on behalf of the families of 17 children who were killed and two who were injured.

The 98-page lawsuit claims that the failure of more than 90 DPS troopers to engage the shooter endangered children and cost lives, Koskoff and other attorneys argued in the lawsuit. It also names the former school district police chief, Pete Arredondo, the school’s principal, Mandy Gutierrez, a school resource officer, Adrian Gonzales, and Jesus R. Suarez Jr., a member of the school board and reserve officer for the Southwest Texas Junior College Police Department, citing their inaction. Reached on his cellphone, Suarez said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and referred questions to his attorney, who did not respond to calls and emails. An attorney for Gutierrez and Gonzales also did not return calls and texts sent to his listed cell phone number. Arredondo could not be reached for comment, but his attorney has previously argued that he was being scapegoated.

The lawsuit argues that while the “craven actions” of the school district police are well known, “equally culpable actions” by DPS officers have been “shielded from public scrutiny.” It notes that DPS has fought the release of its officers’ body-camera footage, radio communications, officer interviews and other records. The Tribune, ProPublica and other media organizations are suing the agency for such records. A state district judge ruled last year that DPS should release those records, but the agency has appealed.

Spokespeople for DPS and the school district declined to comment on the lawsuit.

“For two long years, we have languished in pain and without any accountability from the law enforcement agencies and officers who allowed our families to be destroyed that day,” Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed, said in a statement. Luevanos said that while the settlement with the city reflects a first good-faith effort to begin rebuilding trust, “it wasn’t just Uvalde officers who failed us that day.”

“Nearly 100 officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety have yet to face a shred of accountability for cowering in fear while my daughter and nephew bled to death in their classroom.”

Only about a dozen officers from the nearly two dozen agencies that responded to the shooting have been fired or suspended, or have retired as a result. At least five DPS officers were among them.

The lawsuit also names as defendants two companies: Massachusetts-based Schneider Electric USA Inc., which it claims manufactured or installed the door-locking mechanisms at Robb Elementary, arguing that the designs are “unreasonably dangerous” because they force teachers to step outside their classrooms to lock doors, and Motorola Solutions Inc., which designed or sold the radio communication used by police and medics at the scene. The devices are “defective and unreasonably dangerous” because they left some first responders without access to necessary communications, according to the lawsuit.

A spokesperson for Motorola did not respond to emailed questions about the lawsuit. A spokesperson for Schneider Electric USA Inc. wrote in an email that the company did not make the locks at Robb Elementary and said that its inclusion was an error. He noted the company had been dropped in a previous lawsuit for that reason and was in touch with attorneys for the families in the current filing. He said the company expects to be dropped from this case.

A spokesperson for the attorneys said that if Schneider Electric USA Inc. provides information confirming it did not make the locks, the company will be removed from the suit.

The settlement and lawsuit bring some needed accountability after an “unbearable two years,” said Javier Cazares, whose 9-year-old Jacklyn Cazares was killed in the shooting.

“There was an obvious system failure out there on May 24. The whole world saw that,” Cazares said. “The time has come to do the right thing.”

This content originally appeared on ProPublica and was authored by .

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