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Expert Analysis of Pete Arredondo’s Indictment

This week, the Washington Post contacted me regarding Unvadle School Police Chief Pete Arredondo’s indictment. In many respects, the Uvalde police chief indictment is unprecedented. This article will break down the indictment for endangering a child and what we can glean from them.

Background of the Indictment

A Uvalde County grand jury has indicted former school district police chief Pete Arredondo and former officer Adrian Gonzales on charges of child endangerment. These are the first criminal charges against law enforcement for their inadequate response to the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, which occurred on May 24, 2022.

Pete Arredondo’s Indictment

What is an Indictment?

An indictment is a grand jury’s declaration that there is probable cause to proceed with a charge. Probable cause is a low level of proof, meaning there is a reasonable belief that a person has committed or is about to commit a crime. It is based on facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to believe the suspect is involved in criminal activity. The grand jury itself is a body empowered to conduct investigations, but more commonly, it is the body that prosecutors take felony allegations to proceed as felony cases.

Significance of the Indictment

In this case, prosecutors in Uvalde County took these allegations to the grand jury and asked for an indictment. The grand jury agreed there was probable cause to proceed and “true billed” the indictment with ten separate counts. Each of the ten counts is identical except for the victims’ names, which are redacted for purposes of this article.

uvalde police chief indictment

What is Endangering a Child in Texas?

Endangering a Child in Texas – Penal Code 22.041

Endangering a child is a felony offense in Texas. The elements of the offense are:

A person commits an offense if they:

    1. Intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence,
    2. By act or omission,
    3. Engage in conduct that places a child younger than 15 years in imminent danger of death, bodily injury, or physical or mental impairment.

To be guilty of endangering a child, a person must place the child in “imminent” danger of death, bodily injury, or impairment. “Imminent” means ready to take place, near at hand.

How Does the Indictment Allege Child Endangerment?

The indictment against Pete Arredondo highlights both specific actions and omissions in his role as Chief of Police during the Robb Elementary School shooting. The detailed acts and omissions demonstrate the alleged failures in leadership and decision-making that contributed to the inadequate response to the emergency, including uncoordinated efforts, delays in action, inefficient resource use, compromised officer readiness, and poor communication.

Specific Acts:

  1. Arredondo did not establish an incident command post during the Robb Elementary School shooting.
  2. Arredondo delayed taking decisive action to breach the classroom where the shooter was located, resulting in a critical time lapse.
  3. Arredondo failed to coordinate effectively with other law enforcement agencies that arrived at the scene, contributing to a disorganized response.
  4. Arredondo did not ensure that officers under his command were adequately equipped or informed about the developing situation inside the school.
  5. Arredondo neglected to relay essential information to the officers at the scene, impeding their ability to respond effectively.

Specific Omissions:

  1. Arredondo’s failure to establish a command post led to an uncoordinated and chaotic response from various law enforcement agencies.
  2. Arredondo’s delay in breaching the classroom allowed the shooter to continue his actions unchecked, resulting in additional harm and loss of life.
  3. Arredondo failed to coordinate with arriving law enforcement agencies led to inefficient use of resources and personnel.
  4. Arredondo compromised their ability to respond effectively and safely by not ensuring officers were properly equipped and informed.
  5. Insufficient communication of critical information by Arredondo left officers without the necessary details to make informed decisions during the crisis.

Statute of Limitations

Some might wonder how the state can still press charges after nearly 30 months. The statute of limitations for the offense of endangering a child is five years. This is the shortest statute of limitations for a felony in Texas, so prosecutors are within the timeframe to bring these charges.

Level of Offense

Endangering a child is generally a state jail felony.

State Jail Felony in Texas

Allegations in the Indictment

Acts and Omissions

The indictment alleges both specific acts and omissions by Pete Arredondo that constituted endangering a child.

During the active incident, Arredondo failed to engage the shooter, did not follow proper protocol, delayed the response to the threat, and failed to direct or command subordinates effectively. These actions, or lack thereof, contributed to the harm caused during the incident.

Additionally, Arredondo neglected to provide timely protection or assistance, did not evacuate victims from the danger zone, failed to take charge and coordinate an effective response, and did not utilize available resources to mitigate the threat. These omissions further illustrate the alleged inadequate response to the crisis.

Mental States Alleged in the Indictment

Texas Penal Code recognizes four mental states and all four are alleged in this indictment. Below, we break down the differences in the mental states with examples.

Intentional

A person acts intentionally when it is their conscious objective or desire to engage in the conduct or cause the result. Example: Someone deliberately sets fire to a rival’s business to destroy it.

Knowing

A person acts knowingly when they are aware that their conduct is reasonably certain to cause the result. Example: A person sets a fire to clear brush, knowing it will likely spread to nearby properties.

Reckless

A person acts recklessly when they are aware of but consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Example: A person starts a campfire during a dry season, aware of but disregarding the risk of a forest fire.

Criminal Negligence

A person acts with criminal negligence when they ought to be aware of a substantial and unjustifiable risk. Example: A person leaves a fire pit unattended, not realizing the risk of it spreading to the surrounding area.

Each Count is for a Separate Victim

The indictment lists each count for a separate victim, specifying how Arredondo’s acts or omissions endangered each individual child. Each count is identical in structure, differing only in the name of the victim.

What Makes This Indictment Unusual?

While the offense allows for both acts and omissions, acts are alleged far more frequently than omissions. Texas courts have upheld inaction as a basis for a conviction for endangering a child. For example, in Hernandez v. State, 531 S.W.3d 359, 362 (Tex. App. 2017), the Court of Appeals in Eastland upheld a conviction against a mother who failed to keep her home in a livable condition to the point her child was covered in bug bites and rashes that resulted in cellulitis and a fever for which he had to be admitted to the hospital. Her inaction led the court to find the evidence was sufficient to “constitute[] an immediate danger for them to contract disease and constituted an imminent danger to their physical and mental health.”

It is unusual and likely unprecedented to have someone in law enforcement prosecuted for their inaction. Then again, it is unprecedented to have a situation where law enforcement arrived at a scene and it took over an hour (77 minutes) to engage the perpetrator. The offense does not require proof that the defendant intended to put the child in imminent danger or cause harm. Contreras v. State, 54 S.W.3d 898, 906 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2001, no pet.)

Conclusion

The indictment against Pete Arredondo involves ten counts of endangering a child, each corresponding to a different victim. The allegations include both specific acts and omissions, demonstrating how his actions or lack thereof placed children in imminent danger. This case underscores the critical importance of effective leadership and decision-making in emergency situations, especially when the safety of children is at stake.

Varghese Summersett is a premier criminal defense firm based in Fort Worth, Texas. Our attorneys focus exclusively on criminal law and represent clients charged with crimes at both the state and federal level. We handle everything from DWI to capital murder to white collar crime. Collectively, our attorneys bring together more than 100 years of criminal law experience and have tried more than 550 cases before Texas juries. All of our senior attorneys served as former state or federal prosecutors and four are Board Certified in Criminal law, the highest designation an attorney can reach. We are the firm people turn to when the stakes are high and they are facing the biggest problem in their lives. - Contact Varghese at  
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