DPS officer under investigation for delayed Uvalde response, report says

Published: Oct. 21, 2022 at 7:16 AM MDT
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UVALDE, Texas (CNN) - A Texas State Police captain is now among those under investigation after an account from someone at the scene that he reportedly ordered his officers to stay out of Robb Elementary School in the initial response to the massacre in May.

Nearly 400 law enforcement responded to the deadly school shooting, but commands by a high-ranking state police officer may have contributed to the broader failed response that day.

While a gunman sat in a room full of dead, dying and traumatized children, new police radio transmissions obtained by CNN show Capt. Joel Betancourt giving an order to stop police from entering the classroom.

And one internal memo describes him before he arrives telling officers to stay away from the school and remain on the perimeter during the initial response to the shooting.

Betancourt was one of 91 Department of Public Safety officers on the scene and one of the seven referred for further investigation over his actions.

After lionizing the police response in the initial days, the Texas governor and state officials have pushed the blame for what has since been acknowledged as a failure on the local and school police.

Memos written just two days after the shooting detail actions by the DPS that allegedly went against protocol for mass shootings.

One lieutenant wrote, “I heard someone shout out, ‘Capt. Betancourt said all DPS personnel need to be on perimeter, do not enter the building.’”

And a sergeant reported he knew “this was clearly against established training,” and so he entered the school anyway.

By the time Betancourt says he arrived outside Robb Elementary, students and teachers had already been trapped for more than an hour.

Scene from the video include the following:

An officer is heard on Constable Emanuel Zamora’s bodycam saying, “They think there’s kids in there. Supposedly there’s a kid that called in and said he was in there with him.”

An officer is heard on DPS Joshua Brodovsky’s bodycam saying: “We don’t know if he has anyone in the room with him, do we?”

“I think he does,” an officer says, “Eight or nine children.”

Some at the scene, like one Border Patrol medic, are aware of the urgency inside the classroom.

“I thought he said victims room 12,” the Border Patrol EMS is heard saying.

“No we hadn’t heard that, no. ... We’re in the 4s, right? This is building 4?” an officer says.

The Border Patrol EMS asks, “Anybody hurt?”

“No, not here. No, sir,” an officer says.

“Yes, there are!” another officer says.

The Border Patrol EMS asks, “EMS in there already?”

“No, we have an active shooter.”

An officer stops the Border Patrol EMS from entering.

The Border Patrol EMS says, “Oh, he’s in here. ... OK, I’ll stand here and be ready.”

An officer says, “The last contact we had was one of our school PD officers. His wife is a teacher. She called him and said she’s dying.”

The Border Patrol EMS says, “They just had a number of kids in room 12. A kid in room 12. Most of the victims in room 12.”

The EMS walks into the hallway and says, “They said kids room 12!” “F---, we’re taking too long.”

A Border Patrol tactical unit is preparing to end the standoff and storm the classroom.

Police radio is heard over the bodycam: “Units making breach. Come in.”

In a move that sources said has shocked people inside DPS, Betancourt picked up his radio and tried to stop the breach: “Hey, this is DPS Captain Betancourt. The team that’s going to make breach needs to stand by. The team that’s gonna breach needs to stand by.”

The transmission can be clearly heard on several body-worn cameras inside and outside the hallway of Robb Elementary, but the tactical unit was already making entry.

The shooter is killed, and a devastating scene is revealed inside the classroom.

In an interview with investigators that has been detailed to CNN, Betancourt said he did not know there were any children in the building until after the breach, despite 911 calls from children inside the room.

Betancourt says he was relying on information from Uvalde Sheriff Ruben Nolasco that the gunman was a “barricaded subject” and no longer an active shooter, and that a better SWAT unit was on its way.

He admits he never spoke to former school Police Chief Pete Arredondo, who has been labeled the “on-scene commander,” until after the shooter was killed.

The memo referencing Betancourt’s actions and another corroborating it are some of the clearest evidence that questions are being raised internally at the Department of Public Safety about the actions of its officers.

His orders over the radio contradict the official narrative that the state police were never in command of the scene and never issued substantive orders.

When questioned by CNN in September, DPS Director Col. Steven McCraw confirmed the investigation into Betancourt and promised to resign if his agency was shown to have culpability for the botched response.

“Hey, I’ll be the first to resign, OK. I’ll gladly resign. I’ll take my resignation to the governor, OK, if I think there’s any culpability on the Department of Public Safety, period. OK?” McCraw said. “But we’re going to hold our officers accountable. No one gets a pass. but every officer is going to be held accountable.”

“But you are looking at this Captain Betancourt for information that you have that he may have told officers not to go in the hallway?” he was asked.

“Yes, Yes. Absolutely,” McCraw said.

Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the massacre.

Arredondo said he did not see himself as the incident commander.

Nolasco has not responded to CNN’s requests for comment.

CNN left messages for Betancourt by phone, email and text, but he did not respond. He remains on active duty with DPS.