Termination vote for Uvalde schools police chief called off

FILE PHOTO: Pete Arredonde political signs are seen in Uvalde, Texas

By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) - The school board in Uvalde, Texas, said on Friday it has postponed a vote on whether to fire the school district police chief criticized for his handling of the shooting rampage that killed 19 children and two teachers, but the chief has been suspended from duty in the meantime.

The Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District Board of Trustees has been scheduled to consider the employment fate of Pete Arredondo during a special meeting on Saturday, according to a public agenda for the meeting posted earlier in the week.

The seven-member board had planned to confer in closed session with the school district's lawyer before voting on whether to terminate Arredondo from his post "for good cause," as recommended by Superintendent Hal Harrell, the agenda showed.

But the school district revised its website on Friday saying the session had been canceled "in conformity with due process requirements" and at the request of Arredondo's attorney, with the meeting still to be held at an unspecified later date.

"During this interim period, as allowed under law, Chief Arredondo shall be on unpaid administrative leave," the statement added.

Neither school district officials nor Arredondo's attorney, George Hyde, immediately responded to Reuters' requests for comment.

Arredondo, who according to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) acted as "incident commander" in charge of law enforcement's response to the May 24 mass shooting at Robb Elementary School, resigned his seat on the Uvalde City Council this month.

Parents of children slain and injured in the shooting demanded that Arredondo be dismissed during a July 18 school board meeting in Uvalde, the small town in Texas Hill Country about 80 miles west of San Antonio.

He has come under scathing criticism since DPS officials disclosed weeks ago that 19 officers waited for an hour in a hallway outside adjoining classrooms where the gunman was holed up with his victims before a U.S. Border Patrol-led tactical team finally made entry and killed the suspect. [L2N2XJ12R]

DPS officials have said Arredondo chose to hold off on sending officers in to neutralize the suspect sooner, believing the immediate threat to students had abated after an initial burst of gunfire in the classrooms.

According to DPS, Arredondo hesitated even as two fourth-grade girls cowering inside the classrooms placed frantic, whispered cellphone calls to emergency-911 dispatchers pleading for police to send help.

Arredondo, who oversaw a six-member police force before he was placed on leave, has said he never considered himself the incident commander and that he did not order police to hold back on storming the suspect's position.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by David Gregorio)