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Uvalde School District Chief Was Demoted While At Prior Department, Didn’t Get Proper Background Check

Uvalde, TX – The police chief accused of leading the botched law enforcement response to the Robb Elementary School massacre was previously demoted from a high-ranking position with another department and may not have been put through a sufficient background check prior to being hired as chief of the Uvalde Consolidated Independent Schools District Police Department (UCISDPD), according to a local sheriff.

UCISDPD Chief Pete Arredondo was placed on administrative leave in the wake of the May 24 mass shooting that resulted in the murders of 19 children and two teachers.

Seventeen more people were wounded.

Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Director Steven McCraw has placed blame for the delayed law enforcement response squarely on Chief Arredondo, who the director alleged was the “on-scene commander” during the school shooting.

The chief said he believed he was in the role of a front-line responder and that someone else was commanding the larger police response to the situation.

Webb County Sheriff Martin Cuellar said Chief Arredondo previously worked for his department, and that he demoted him from a high-ranking assistant chief position to the rank of commander in October of 2014 because “he couldn’t get along with people,” the San Antonio Express-News reported.

“He was difficult to get along with — with his coworkers, especially upper staff,” Sheriff Cuellar told the paper on Thursday. “The basic thing I want to say is he just didn’t fit the qualifications or the work that I set out for him.”

The sheriff said Chief Arredondo also had problems during his 16-year career with the Uvalde Police Department (UPD).

“Even in Uvalde PD, when he was over there, they disliked the (expletive) out of him,” Sheriff Cuellar told the San Antonio Express-News. “They were hoping he would get a job in Laredo.”

Chief Arredondo left the Webb County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO) in 2017 and spent about three years working for the United Independent School District in Laredo before joining the UCISDPD.

Records also indicate the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District (UCISD) may not have conducted a thorough background check on Chief Arredondo prior to hiring him to lead the UCISDPD in 2020.

Although the school district announced on Feb. 13, 2020, that Chief Arredondo had been chosen for the position, the district’s human resources coordinator didn’t request “a copy of his service record” from United Independent School District in Laredo until six days later, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Sheriff Cuellar said he never received a call from the Uvalde CISD regarding Chief Arredondo’s job performance at the WCSO.

He said he likely wouldn’t have recommended him for the position.

“I don’t think I would, based on the performance,” the sheriff told the San Antonio Express-News. “If Uvalde had asked the proper questions, especially on the chief position, the high-ranking position, I would have said, ‘I don’t think (Arredondo was) capable of running even a small department.’ But they never asked.”

It is unclear whether the Uvalde CISD was even aware of the demotion.

“They do investigations based on, ‘Hey, I worked here, I worked there.’ But then they never asked us,” Sheriff Cuellar told the San Antonio Express-News. “To do a good, clean background on somebody, they need to ask the sheriff. I would have been honest with them and said, ‘Hey, this is why he was demoted. Basically, he didn’t fit my criteria of being a chief.’”

The sheriff said he also believes Chief Arredondo “exaggerated a little bit” on his UICSDPD application regarding his involvement in a 2012 hostage negotiation situation.

Chief Arredondo said in his application that he and one DPS officer were primarily responsible for bringing the standoff to a safe conclusion, but Sheriff Cuellar said he was just one of many officers who spoke with the gunman during the negotiations, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

“I know that (Arredondo) was in the command center talking,” the sheriff recalled. “This is teamwork. You can’t say, ‘I did it all myself.’ Everybody talked to (the suspect)…It was a team effort. It wasn’t just one person.”

UCISD Superintendent Hal Harrell announced on June 22 that he placed Chief Arredondo on administrative leave, KABC reported.

Harrell did not specify why he removed the police chief, but said it is still too soon to know how long the investigation into the Robb Elementary School shooting would take.

The chief had also been elected to the Uvalde City Council approximately two weeks prior to the deadly shooting.

He ultimately resigned from the council on July 1, the Uvalde Leader-News reported.

Chief Arredondo was placed on unpaid leave by the Uvalde CISD in July, according to the San Antonio Express News.

The school district had planned to hold a termination hearing in the matter on Aug. 4, but the hearing was postponed “to once again ensure Pete Arredondo’s due process rights are met,” school district spokeswoman Anne Marie Espinoza told the paper.

Written by
Holly Matkin

Holly is a former probation and parole officer who is married to a sheriff’s deputy. She is a regular contributor to Signature Montana magazine, and has written feature articles for Distinctly Montana magazine.

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Written by Holly Matkin

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