August 15, 2022

We Can’t Get Answers: Texas Lawmaker Decries Police Refusal to Address Response to School Massacre

8 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.
Funerals are continuing in Uvalde, Texas, for the 19 fourth graders and their two teachers shot dead at Robb Elementary School two weeks ago by an 18-year-old gunman. On Monday, a funeral was held for Eliahna “Ellie” Garcia, one day after what would have been her 10th birthday.
Meanwhile, more questions are being raised about how local police responded to the mass shooting and why they waited over an hour before anyone confronted the gunman. One teacher who survived the massacre, Arnulfo Reyes, has spoken out for the first time. He spoke to ABC News from the hospital where he’s recovering after being shot twice in the attack. All 11 of his students in his classroom were killed. Arnulfo Reyes described hearing a student in a neighboring classroom pleading with police officers in the hallway for help.

ARNULFO REYES: One of the students from the next-door classroom was saying, “Officer, we’re in here. We’re in here.” But they had already left. And then he got up from behind my desk, and he walked over there, and he shot over there again.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday, an 11-year-old student who survived the massacre, Miah Cerrillo, is scheduled to testify in Washington, D.C., during a House hearing on gun violence. Miah avoided being murdered by smearing herself with blood from a friend who had been shot dead.
We turn now to Roland Gutierrez, the Democratic state senator whose district includes Uvalde.
State Senator, welcome back to Democracy Now! We wanted to go to what you understand at this point — I mean, what looks like just a clear cover-up. Can you talk about your texting back and forth with the head of DPS, the Department of Public Safety, guaranteeing you would learn about all these officers in the hallway and what happened by last Friday, but then being told by him that he’s been ordered not to tell you this information?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Yes, Amy. Thank you, first off, for continuing to shed light on this. It’s so very important.
I had a very — and I still have a good communication with Steve McCraw on other issues. But, unfortunately, as of last Friday, he was ordered to not communicate any further reports to me. That order was put in place by the local district attorney, who is claiming to have taken over this investigation. Mind you, this Republican district attorney has a staff of two or three. She has called on four other lawyers from sort of the surrounding area to try to help her with this massive, massive investigation.
You mentioned Ellie Garcia. I went to her viewing on Sunday. And I find it just so compelling. Ellie was shrouded; she had a shroud over her. This is the most infamous day in Texas’s recent history. And what happened on that day will remain shrouded as long as Greg Abbott has it so. And so, we are in this space right now in Texas where we can get no answers to what happened and why those students waited for 45 minutes for officers to go in.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator, I wanted to ask you — we discussed this previously, this whole issue of the incident commander. And it seems that most of the blame is being placed on Chief Arredondo. Does it make sense to you that the Texas Department of Public Safety, the main state police organization in Texas, since their officers were on the scene, would have deferred to a local school police chief in an instance like this?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, it makes no sense to me. They’re the superior authority. DPS always comes to us when we have meetings, neighborhood meetings and such, and they talk about command and control. They are the superior force in that area, especially after Greg Abbott voted to put in $4 billion on the border over the last year. There was at least, from what I know in my last communication with Steve McCraw — at first, there was two officers in that hallway. My last phone call, he said there was between two and as many as 13. At what point does the superior agency not say, “Hey, I’m taking over here,” whether that be the police or the sheriff’s department — excuse me — or DPS? At what point does that not happen?
One other thing that I find compelling here, again, in our last phone calls, I’m told that Arredondo did not have his radio communications. And that has also been reported by The New York Times independently. If Arredondo doesn’t have his radio comms, how in the world is he the incident commander? Who makes him the incident commander? Does he wear a shirt that says “incident commander”? Does he raise his hand? It defies any kind of logic that this man was in charge. And so I hope that he comes out, speaks out, tells us the truth about what happened.
We’ve heard from the Uvalde Leader, the newspaper in the area, in an editorial. They used a couple of phrases in their editorial. They said, “Officers were frozen.” So, I don’t know if they’re speaking to their local ISD police or their UPD. But at some point I think that — and that’s my hope — that we’ll be able to start hearing from some of these officers.
And it’s important, not to cast blame, but it is important to ensure that this doesn’t happen again anywhere in Texas. And God forbid that it does. But, unfortunately, with the current state of political affairs and a governor that simply doesn’t listen — five massacres in, and has done nothing to change gun laws — unfortunately, we know that it will.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Senator, what do you see as the significance that there’s a possible grand jury already impaneled here and raising the possibility that some people could be indicted in relation to this situation, other than the actual shooter?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, because we don’t know what that means. They’ve just raised this possibility. If it’s actors or folks on social media or cohorts of this person, well, that’s one thing, for sure. But if it’s this law enforcement component, I can’t understand for the life of me, while policymakers and the public in general and the community in general cannot get the answers of the logistics of what went on, the situational logistics.
What I specifically asked for, what I was going to receive on Friday, that was stymied by the district attorney, was which officers were in their hallways. I didn’t want their identities. I didn’t want to know that, you know, Juan Sanchez or John Smith was in that hallway. I wanted to know how many troopers were in there, because those troopers are accountable to the state Legislature, how many sheriff’s deputies, how many ISD, so that I can then, for myself, determine this notion at least, or at least infer the situational control piece.
It’s important so that in the future, as Steve McCraw told me in one conversation where we were yelling and crying at each other, that this will never happen again. He specifically said that DPS will no longer stand down to any force again. That’s compelling, and that’s nice to say, but I don’t think that that’s what happened here. Inferentially, I can tell you that I just feel that all of these people, including the ISD cop, was just frozen. And I could imagine, and I understand that fear. That 45 minutes to them probably went by in four-and-a-half, and to those parents outside, it was 45 hours. It was just — it’s just devastating, what we’ve had to deal with.
AMY GOODMAN: And let’s not forget, those parents outside, trying to get inside, being held back by police. They’re begging for their guns and their shields. They said, “If you won’t go in, we’ll go in.” But I wanted to ask you, state Senator Roland Gutierrez, on this issue of the state of Texas. Governor Abbott has said he’s setting up a commission. I assume you weren’t invited to be a part of that commission, though you represent Uvalde. You’ve called for not a commission, but a special session. What exactly do you want to see Texas pass in terms of gun laws?
SEN. ROLAND GUTIERREZ: Well, we don’t get anywhere with special commissions. After Santa Fe, he had roundtables — which I assume went round and round — and came up with nothing. After El Paso, he sat down and had recommendations that were issued to the Legislature. Now he’s calling for this new nomenclature of a special commission. Listen, there is nothing happening here other than Greg Abbott bamboozling the people of the state of Texas with the word “special.”
A special session is a legal term in our statutes by which the governor can call us back for a 30-day time-certain period, beginning on a date certain and ending on a date certain. Those are the days that we have by which to work when we are not in session, and we meet in committees — not special committees, but in committees. We take witness testimony. We take expert testimony. We take the public’s testimony. And then we formulate bills. Those bills, as like any other state, they go to the House, they go to the Senate, they go to the governor’s desk.
Without that, this special committee is nothing more than a joke that will do nothing. Will I be there? Sure, I’ll ask them questions. Are they concerned that I’m going to politicize it? Listen, if we’re not talking about guns, then I very well don’t see the benefit in it at all. I might have a meeting of my own outside, you know, with real gun experts: folks from Sandy Hook, folks from Colorado, from Florida, from Parkland, from Aurora.
We have to be able to understand that there is this basic thing here, and that’s what Kathy Hochul did yesterday. An 18-year-old should not go into a gun shop on his 18th birthday or the day after and shop for an AR-15, ammo the next day, and then another AR-15, as if he was going to the 7-Eleven to buy a Slurpee. That’s how easy it was for this young man. Where is the human red flag of that local store saying there’s something wrong here? But what’s wrong is that there’s something wrong in Texas, because greed has come into play — the NRA greed, that store owner’s greed, Greg Abbott’s greed, his absence of leadership on this issue. And Republican constituents want change themselves, and he’s just not listening.