Families of Uvalde school shooting victims sue Texas state police over response

22 May 2024, 18:24

Uvalde School Shooting
Uvalde School Shooting. Picture: PA

Nineteen fourth-graders and two teachers were killed on May 24, 2022, when a teenage gunman burst into their classroom at Robb Elementary School.

The families of 19 of the victims in the Uvalde elementary school shooting in Texas have announced a lawsuit against nearly 100 state police officers who were part of the botched law enforcement response.

The families said in a statement that they also agreed a two million dollars settlement with the city, under which city leaders promised higher standards and better training for local police.

The announcement came two days before the two-year anniversary of one of the deadliest school shootings in US history.

Nineteen fourth-graders and two teachers were killed on May 24, 2022, when a teenage gunman burst into their classroom at Robb Elementary School and began shooting.

Uvalde School Shooting
Flowers are piled around crosses with the names of the victims killed in a school shooting (Jae C Hong/AP)

The lawsuit is the latest of several seeking accountability for the law enforcement response. More than 370 federal, state and local officers converged on the scene, but they waited more than 70 minutes before confronting the shooter.

It is the first lawsuit to come after a 600-page Justice Department report was released in January that catalogued “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership and technology problems that day.

The lawsuit notes state troopers did not follow their active shooter training and responsibility to confront the shooter, even as the students and teachers inside were following their own lockdown protocols of turning off lights, locking doors and staying silent.

“The protocols trap teachers and students inside, leaving them fully reliant on law enforcement to respond quickly and effectively,” the families and their attorneys said in a statement.

Terrified students inside the classroom called 911 as agonised parents begged officers, some of whom could hear shots being fired while they stood in a hallway, to go in.

A tactical team of officers eventually went into the classroom and killed the shooter.

“Law-enforcement’s inaction that day was a complete and absolute betrayal of these families and the sons, daughters and mothers they lost,” said Erin Rogiers, one of the attorneys for the families.

“TXDPS had the resources, training and firepower to respond appropriately, and they ignored all of it and failed on every level. These families have not only the right but also the responsibility to demand justice.”

A criminal investigation into the police response by Uvalde district attorney Christina Mitchell’s office remains ongoing. A grand jury was summoned this year, and some law enforcement officials have already been called to testify.

The lawsuit against 92 Texas Department of Public Safety officials and troopers also names the Uvalde School District, former Robb Elementary Principal Mandy Gutierrez and former Uvalde schools police chief Peter Arredondo as defendants.

Another lawsuit filed in December 2022 against local and state police, the city, and other school and law enforcement, seeks at least 27 billion dollars and class-action status for survivors.

And at least two other lawsuits have been filed against Georgia-based gun manufacturer Daniel Defence, which made the AR-style rifle used by the gunman.

The settlement with the city was capped at two million dollars because the families said they did not want to bankrupt the city where they still live and to allow the community to continue to heal.

The settlement will be paid from city’s insurance coverage.

Under the settlement, the city agreed to a new “fitness for duty” standard and enhanced training for Uvalde police officers. It also establishes May 24 as an annual day of remembrance, a permanent memorial in the city plaza, and support for mental health services for the families and the greater Uvalde area.

The police response to the mass shooting has been criticised and scrutinised by state and federal authorities. A 600-page Justice Department report in January catalogued “cascading failures” in training, communication, leadership and technology problems that day,

Another report commissioned by the city also noted rippling missteps by law enforcement but defended the actions of local police, which sparked anger from victims’ families.

“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,” said Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce were killed.

“This settlement reflects a first good faith effort, particularly by the City of Uvalde, to begin rebuilding trust in the systems that failed to protect us.”

By Press Association

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