Amid mounting pressure to resign over Uvalde school shooting, Texas’ top law enforcement chief defends agency

Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steve McCraw defended his agency’s response to the Uvalde school massacre Thursday amid mounting pressure for his resignation, saying the agency “did not fail the community.” 

McCraw, speaking at a meeting of the Texas Public Safety Commission, said he would not resign over the problematic response to the shooting, which left 19 children and two teachers dead — the deadliest school shooting in Texas history. But, he said “every responding officer needs to be accountable for their actions.”

More than 90 state troopers responded to the shooting and played a broader role at the scene than McCraw indicated in earlier statements and testimony to a Texas Senate panel this summer. Officers from multiple local, state and federal agencies delayed confronting and killing the gunman for 77 minutes, even as victims called 911 pleading for help.

“If DPS as an institution failed the families, failed the school or failed the community of Uvalde, then absolutely I need to go. I can tell you this right now. DPS as an institution … did not fail the community. Plain and simple,” McCraw said.

‘It was anything but heroic’:Texas DPS director speaks on response to Uvalde shooting

DPS Director Steve McCraw addresses family of Uvalde shooting victims during the Department of Public Safety Commission meeting at DPS Headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

Relatives of several of the Uvalde victims traveled to Austin on Thursday to testify at the hearing, which became tense and emotional, and demanded McCraw’s termination, along with more accountability and transparency in the investigation into law enforcement’s conduct on May 24. 

In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, McCraw focused blame on Uvalde school district Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who was placed on leave and ultimately fired by the school board in August. 

But amid a Texas Rangers investigation, authorities fired Sgt. Juan Maldonado last week for his role in the shooting response. An agency spokesman previously said seven troopers were under investigation. 

Uvalde school chief fired:Police chief fired after months of criticism for Uvalde elementary school massacre response

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New body camera footage, first released by Sinclair San Antonio on Wednesday, shows several state troopers, including Maldonado, at Robb Elementary. Several clips show officers discussing the children who were shot in the classrooms and the need to engage the shooter, but not taking action over concerns for their safety.

On Thursday, McCraw said the Rangers’ investigation will be complete in two months, or by the end of the year, and will then be handed over to the Uvalde County district attorney’s office. He did not say whether the report will be made public. 

McCraw faced searing criticism for the misleading, and at times false, information released by agency officials in the aftermath of the shooting and for the lack of transparency in the investigation from several relatives of Uvalde victims, who along with state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, addressed the commission and McCraw directly Thursday. 

The Uvalde response “shattered our belief that we could trust the word and the actions of law enforcement, especially the Department of Public Safety,” Gutierrez said Thursday. 

“DPS failed on May 24. It failed to take control of a dangerous situation. It failed to neutralize an ongoing threat. It failed in the aftermath of the shooting by not following normal triage protocols with the injured. It failed in the days following the massacre by giving false information that was easily provably false. And it’s failing today by continuing to not disclose all of the information that is important to us today, and dribbling out again, sanctions against low-level cops, officers, troopers, when in fact we need to look at the people that were supervising those people and the people that were making decisions,” Gutierrez said.

More:How a false tale of police heroism in Uvalde spread and unraveled

Brett Cross, father of Uvalde shooting victim Uziyah Garcia, rests his face in his hands during the Department of Public Safety Commission meeting on Uvalde at DPS Headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

Brett Cross, guardian of Uziyah Garcia, one of the children killed at Robb Elementary, also testified and demanded McCraw resign. 

“You, sir, have told lies. You’re not in control of your officers, nor are you the leader this great state deserves at the helm of what was once known as one of the best law enforcement agencies. You have disgraced the state, your position and the people,” Cross said. 

McCraw apologized for issuing false information in the aftermath of the shooting, including telling the media that a teacher had propped open a door allowing the shooter to enter the school — a statement that turned out to be incorrect. McCraw also repeated that the law enforcement response was an “abject failure,” and that every responding officer is being evaluated.

Juanita Cazares, family of Uvalde shooting victim Jackie Cazares, listens to public comments during the Department of Public Safety Commission meeting at DPS Headquarters on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2022.

“Every responding officer needs to be accountable for their actions. When did they arrive? What were they told? What did they know? And then what did they do? Plain and simple. And I don’t care how high it goes. All those things are important,” McCraw said.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Tony Gonzales, R-San Antonio, who represents Uvalde, called for McCraw to resign. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke also has called for McCraw’s resignation.