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Texas state trooper who responded to Uvalde shooting fired during response inquiry

Hundreds of flowers, toys and candles surround a memorial in June for the 21 victims killed in the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde.
Evan L'Roy
The Texas Tribune
Hundreds of flowers, toys and candles surround a memorial in June for the 21 victims killed in the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde.

The Department of Public Safety has fired Sgt. Juan Maldonado, one of the state troopers who responded to the May school shooting in Uvalde that left 21 dead.

Maldonado is the latest law enforcement official — and the first state police officer — to be fired in the wake of the deadliest school shooting in Texas history, during which more than 300 officers from agencies across the state waited more than an hour to breach a door and kill the shooter.

Maldonado was the highest-ranking state trooper to initially respond to the May 24 shooting. Body-camera footage released by the Uvalde Police Department shows that at least one DPS officer — Maldonado — was outside of the school within four minutes of the shooting.

After the gunman fired more than 100 rounds, Uvalde Police Sgt. Eduardo Canales, a commander of the local SWAT team, stumbled outside. With blood on his hands after a bullet fired by the gunman grazed his ear, he encountered Maldonado.

“Dude, we got to get in there,” Canales told Maldonado, who, according to DPS, drove one of his closest friends, Ruben Ruiz, a Uvalde school district police officer, to the campus that morning. Ruiz’s wife was a teacher at the school.

“DPS is sending people,” Maldonado replied.

Eleven minutes later, Ruiz told officers that his wife had called him and said she had been shot. But officers continued to treat the situation as if they were dealing with a barricaded suspect instead of an active shooter. According to law enforcement doctrine, active shootings require that the first action by officers, no matter their rank, should be to immediately “stop the killing.”

Maldonado was a 23-year veteran of the state agency and a public information officer for the region. He is the latest law enforcement official to lose his job over the botched response to the school shooting.

A spokesperson for DPS said Maldonado was sacked at the end of a formal investigation and has the opportunity to appeal.

Earlier this month, school officials suspended the entire district police department after protesters held a dayslong protest outside the Uvalde school district administrative building during which demonstrators called for the removal of all of its officers until investigations into the police department’s response to the shooting are complete.

That suspension of the small police force came on the heels of school officials firing a recently hired district police officer after it became public that she was one of the first state troopers to arrive at Robb Elementary School on May 24.

In August, the school district fired the head of the police department, Pete Arredondo, who was widely criticized for his response to the shooting. Last month, the Texas Department of Public Safety said it was investigating five of its 91 officers who responded to the shooting.

District Superintendent Hal Harrell announced his retirement earlier this month

For months, some family members of shooting victims called for Harrell’s resignation, arguing that he and other school officials should be held responsible for failing to prepare for a school shooting. A Texas House committee investigation into the shooting provided a damning portrayal of a school district that had strayed from strict adherence to its safety plan and a police response that disregarded its own active-shooter training.

William Melhado is a Poynter-Koch fellow for 2022-23 and a general assignment reporter on The Texas Tribune’s breaking news team.