Editorial: Lack of transparency allowed Uvalde CISD’s Pete Arredondo to upgrade discharge

Wooden crosses honor the victims of the Robb Elementary School massacre outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Transparency and accountability also honors the victims.

Wooden crosses honor the victims of the Robb Elementary School massacre outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Transparency and accountability also honors the victims.

Sam Owens, San Antonio Express-News / Staff photographer

A lack of communication and transparency continues to plague Uvalde CISD.

It is a lack of communication that contributed to a delayed response to thwart the May 24 shooting at Robb Elementary School in which 19 children and two teachers were murdered.

It is a lack of communication and transparency that allowed fired Uvalde school district Police Chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo to quietly appeal and win an upgrade to his discharge designation.

The Texas Tribune reported that the Texas Rangers, a division of DPS, are conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting at Robb Elementary and have sent an initial report to prosecutors, according to a spokesperson for the Texas Department of Public Safety. Sadly, DPS has said it won’t discipline any more officers.

Two months after the shooting, the school district’s board fired Arredondo. He was widely blamed for the disastrous and delayed police response, although we have long contended that many share the blame for the police response.

Nevertheless, Arredondo has used an appeals process for his firing that desperately needs greater transparency.

Texas police who leave an agency are assigned one of three discharge designations: honorable, general or dishonorable. Those fired — or who resign in lieu of being fired — almost always receive the lower labels.

Last month, according to the nonprofit Texas 2036, Arredondo had his less-than-honorable discharge upgraded by default when the school district did not contest his appeal. However, the school district was unaware he had appealed for a change in status to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, Gary Patterson, interim superintendent, said. Arredondo’s discharge was upgraded from “general” to “honorable.”

In January, this Editorial Board called for transparency after a fired San Antonio police officer was hired at a neighboring agency. Arredondo’s appeal is another example of the need for transparency.

According to a district timeline, the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, or TCOLE, emailed notices about Arredondo’s appeal to the district’s interim police chief on Sept. 27, Sept. 28 and Oct. 7. All were opened but not forwarded to anyone else.

We want to know why the interim police chief didn’t follow up. Additionally, why wasn’t the notice sent to more than one person, including the school board, the governing body that voted unanimously to fire Arredondo? Why wouldn’t Patterson be notified?

A lack of follow-through by TCOLE shows another example of why the state’s Sunset Advisory Commission said it was “by and large, toothless” and that “Texas’ regulatory approach has resulted in a fragmented, outdated system with inadequate training, lack of statewide standards and inconsistent accountability.”

It is unclear the reasoning for Arredondo’s appeal. Could you imagine another law enforcement agency hiring him? It should be a red flag for other agencies when those who are fired, or who resign in lieu of being fired, seek employment.

But it’s only a red flag if other agencies are aware of an officer’s employment history. There is not one statewide database for all law enforcement agencies to access the history of a particular officer.

Locally, ACT 4 SA, a nonprofit focused on police reform, has sought to answer the call for transparency with its website, copthedata.com. The dashboard shows suspensions and firings from 2010 through 2022 at the San Antonio Police Department.

On ExpressNews.com: Commentary: New website brings data on bad cops to public

But that effort is just a start and something TCOLE should adopt statewide immediately.

We have heard from readers who have said this Editorial Board should stop “hollering” about Uvalde, but it’s imperative that we hold law enforcement agencies and their officers accountable. The only way to do that is through transparency.

Whether it’s Uvalde, or the murder of George Floyd or an officer-involved DWI, the public needs to know that those who are tasked with upholding and instituting the laws aren’t above the law.

Meanwhile, there is a process to reconsider this discharge decision, and the district is taking advantage of this.

The decision to upgrade Arredondo’s discharge should be rescinded. While he’s not to be fully blamed for the mass shooting at Robb Elementary, his inaction on May 24 was definitely not honorable.

Setting it straight: This editorial has been updated to reflect that Arredondo’s appeal will be decided by a judge at the State Office of Administrative Hearings.