(UVALDE, Texas) — Even though he was fired for cause, Pete Arredondo, the Texas school district police chief terminated for his actions on the day of a schoolhouse massacre last year, won an appeal to remove a blemish from his discharge file, according to a state think tank that studied his case file.
The decision does not enable Arredondo to get his job in Uvalde back, but it clears his record in the event he seeks employment at another agency.
“The whole point of this … discharge system is to be a red flag for hiring agencies,” said Luis Soberon, a policy adviser for think tank Texas 2036 who released the report Tuesday. “If that is the primary function of this system, it doesn’t work very well.”
A gunman killed 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary school last May. The law enforcement response, which Arredondo presided over, has been criticized by experts and other law enforcement officials. Arredondo was fired after a unanimous vote by the Uvalde School Board.
When any law enforcement officer is fired in Texas, the firing agency submits a termination report to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement classifying the firing as dishonorable, general or honorable. The officer can then appeal to upgrade the classification through the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
Agency records show Arredondo appealed his status in September, a month after he was fired. The case file shows a default judgment and decision was reached at the end of January, indicating Arredondo had won his bid to upgrade his termination classification.
Neither Arredondo nor his lawyer responded to requests for comment on his appeal.
Soberon said, “The only time you see a default decision and order is when it is in favor of the petitioner, the former officer.”
The case result was first reported by the Houston Chronicle.
The actual case documents are confidential, according to Shane Linkous, general counsel at State Office of Administrative Hearings. So Soberon doesn’t know what termination classification Arredondo had received prior to his appeal, nor the arguments he made in favor of his appeal.
But, winning his appeal means that he doesn’t have a dishonorable discharge — the lowest of the three tiers — on his policing record.
A default judgment also means that the agency who filed the report — in this case, the Uvalde school district — did not “show up” to fight the appeal, said Soberon. The entire agency was disbanded in October, so the responsibility to reply to Arredondo’s appeal would have fallen on Interim Police Chief Josh Gutierrez when he was hired in November. Last week, the district began the process of reconstituting the police force, hiring two new school police officers under Gutierrez.
The Uvalde School District did not respond to repeated requests for additional information about the termination report or why Arredondo won his appeal by default.
Arredondo has repeatedly defended his actions on the day of the shooting. He called his firing a “public lynching” and said his actions during the tragedy saved lives.
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