This story is part of a KXAN series of reports called “Stop Mass Shootings,” providing context and exploring solutions surrounding gun violence in the wake of the deadly Uvalde school shooting. We want our reports to be a resource for Texans, as well as for lawmakers who are convening a month after the events in Uvalde to discuss how the state should move forward. Explore all “Stop Mass Shootings” stories by clicking here.
AUSTIN (KXAN) — As Gov. Greg Abbott promised “transparency,” Uvalde CISD Police Chief Pete Arredondo exited secret closed-door testimony at the Capitol on Tuesday, getting in an elevator while surrounded by law enforcement, without saying a word.
“I challenge the chief to come testify in public as to what happened here,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt (R-Houston) earlier in the day. “Don’t go hiding in the House. Come to the Senate where the public of Texas can ask these questions.”
Arredondo testified in front of a House committee, which, unlike the Senate hearing, was closed to the public. The committee chair, Rep. Dustin Burrows (R-Lubbock) said the investigative hearing is being held behind closed doors because of the “quasi-judicial nature” of their work.
“We’ve just now begin to see some things, to talk about some things, and I don’t want to be more part of the problem by giving a real time accounting until we can be accurate,” Burrows said following the private hearing, “and make sure that we have a full complete representation of what it is that we’ve come to.”
Yet, DPS Director Steve McCraw also testified Tuesday, in public, about law enforcement’s response. During his testimony at the Senate’s special committee to “Protect All Texans,” McCraw called Arredondo’s handling of the massacre an “abject failure.” In gripping testimony, he revealed a minute-by-minute timeline of events, along with transcripts of police radio and phone calls made at the scene along with security details about communication capabilities and the school’s safety features, much of which was new.
The question, first amendment advocates are asking, is why Arredondo’s testimony was kept secret and why was he escorted into the chamber through a back door out of public view?
“That right there shows that law enforcement information can be released to the public, should be released to the public,” said Kelley Shannon, the executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Law enforcement can release information about investigations any time they like and [do] if they have a motive to, or reason to.”
Shannon previously told KXAN she worries Texas’ so-called “Dead Suspect Loophole” could be used to block the release of public records that could shed light on what happened in Uvalde.
“The more information that comes out of this, and how the police handled it, the better,” said Shannon. “We want complete information. We don’t want snippets of information. We the public, starting with the citizens of Uvalde…want information about this so we can, hopefully, prevent it from happening again.”
To try to get answers, KXAN has put in multiple public information requests with the Texas Department of Public Safety, Uvalde Police and Uvalde CISD. We have received either denial letters, no responsive records or challenges with the Attorney General’s office.
All of this comes on the same day Abbott promised transparency into what happened.
“All information the Office of the Governor has related to the shooting in Uvalde has already been released to the public or is in an expedited process of being released,” said Abbott’s spokesperson Renae Eze in a statement. “Governor Abbott has been adamant since day one that all information relating to the tragedy at Robb Elementary School be shared with the victims’ families, the Uvalde community, and the entire state.”
The governor’s office said it will work to make sure documents are released, including the full results of the investigations by the Texas Rangers and the FBI.
“The Governor wants all facts of this tragedy to be made public as quickly as possible and will do his part to achieve that goal,” said Eze.