A thorough investigation conducted by the Department of Justice (DOJ) into the Robb Elementary School massacre has revealed significant failures in the response to the mass shooting, according to families who lost loved ones in the tragic incident. The report, described as the most comprehensive investigation thus far, highlighted what the DOJ referred to as “cascading failures” in the handling of the situation. The findings have prompted calls for criminal charges against law enforcement officials involved, although legal experts argue that securing a conviction could be challenging.
One of the key findings of the report was the delayed entry of officers into classrooms 111 and 112, where the shooter had opened fire on students and teachers. Shockingly, nearly 400 officers waited for over an hour before taking action. This revelation has further fueled the demand for accountability and justice from grieving families. However, legal experts have cautioned that bringing criminal charges against the responding officers would require fitting the charges under a specific statute.
Nico LaHood, a criminal defense attorney in San Antonio, expressed his belief that charges such as endangering a child or injury to a child could be considered, given the reckless omission and failure to act on the part of law enforcement. It is important to note that previous Supreme Court rulings have established that law enforcement officials are not legally obligated to protect individuals, although an expectation of protection is inherent in their position.
Russell Lorfing, a former federal prosecutor, echoed this sentiment, emphasizing that while there is no legal obligation to act in a manner that protects and serves, there is an expectation associated with the role. Laurie Levenson, a professor of criminal law and former federal prosecutor, suggested that federal authorities could potentially bring charges against the officers for violating civil rights, while negligent homicide could be a possibility under Texas law.
Despite the damning findings of the DOJ report, legal experts believe it will be challenging to hold individual officers criminally responsible for their inaction. Proving that the victims died as a direct result of law enforcement’s delayed response would be a formidable task. Additionally, the complex nature of the chain of responsibility within the law enforcement hierarchy could lead to officers deflecting blame onto one another, claiming they are being scapegoated.
While the prospects for criminal charges appear uncertain, legal experts believe that a civil lawsuit could provide a path to justice and accountability. In 2022, the families of survivors filed a $27 billion class-action lawsuit against both law enforcement and the Uvalde school district. The suit specifically names officers such as DPS Director Steve McCraw and former Uvalde Police Chief Pete Arredondo, but leaves room for additional officers to be included. This avenue seeks to hold those responsible accountable for what is described as a systematic failure of leadership and the obligation to protect the community.
The civil lawsuit provides an opportunity for a jury to examine the actions of the officers involved and make a determination regarding the moral culpability and the need for accountability. The DOJ report, while not explicitly stating the potential for lives to have been saved with prompt and diligent action, strongly implies that lives could indeed have been spared. As legal expert Russell Lorfing remarked, the report’s significance lies not only in what it says but also in what it doesn’t say—a clear indication that lives could have been saved had the officers acted diligently.