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Uvalde Settles With Victims’ Families Over School Shooting

The city of Uvalde, Texas, has reached a settlement with most of the families of children who were shot by a gunman at Robb Elementary School in 2022, the families’ attorneys announced Wednesday. To avoid a trial, the city promised to reorganize its police force, create a permanent memorial for the victims and pay $2 million, the lawyers said.

The settlement, announced at a news conference in Uvalde, involved the largest group of potential plaintiffs: 17 families of children killed in the May 24 massacre and two families of injured children.

Additionally, the attorneys said they filed a new lawsuit against the Texas Department of Public Safety for its officers’ failure to quickly engage the shooter, who killed a total of 19 children and two teachers in two connected classrooms. That lawsuit also names as defendants Pete Arredondo, who was chief of the Uvalde Public Schools Police Department at the time of the shooting, and Mandy Gutierrez, who was the school’s principal at the time.

State Police officers, along with numerous local agency and federal agents, remained outside the classrooms for 77 minutes before a team, led by federal agents from the border patrol, breaks down a door and kills the shooter.

“These officers were so terrified that they chose to abandon their burden to the Uvalde community: placing themselves between a very dangerous person and a child,” Josh Koskoff, an attorney for the families, said in a statement.

In its settlement, the city agreed to do a better job recruiting qualified officers and providing appropriate training, including on handling active shooters.

In discussing how the settlement was reached, Mr. Koskoff said city officials made it clear they could not afford to pay significant damages. “You can have all the insurance money,” he was told. He said the parties agreed to focus instead on what he called “restorative justice.” measures taken by the city.

City officials said in a statement they were “grateful” to reach an agreement that would help the city remember and move forward from “our community’s greatest tragedy.”

“We will be forever grateful to the victims’ families for working with us over the past year to cultivate a community-wide healing environment that honors the lives and memories of those we tragically lost. lost,” the statement said.

Investigations by state officials and the U.S. Department of Justice faulted police officers at the school for treating the shooter as a barricaded subject — requiring a less immediate response — rather than as a shooter active that they had to face quickly in order to save lives. .

The attorneys, who represent the families pro bono, claim in their lawsuit that law enforcement’s delayed response made it more likely that injured students or teachers would die from their injuries.

“While expected, this settlement reflects a good faith effort, particularly on the part of the City of Uvalde, to begin to restore trust in the systems that have failed to protect us,” he said. said Veronica Luevanos, whose daughter Jailah and nephew Jayce died in the massacre. A declaration.

Earlier this year, local prosecutor Christina Mitchell began presenting evidence to a grand jury to consider criminal charges against the officers for their role in the police response. Ms Mitchell did not respond to a request for comment on when this process would be completed.

Mr Koskoff called the police response an “inexcusable failure”.

“They were the last line of defense — they failed,” he said, noting that agents and officers from the city, county, state and federal government all arrived on the scene, but failed to tackle the shooter in time.

There, the city has promised to better commemorate the massacre, which tore apart the social fabric of Uvalde, a largely Hispanic and conservative community in the ranches west of San Antonio.

Uvalde has been in turmoil in the two years since the shooting. On Wednesday, the school district announced that its new police chief, who replaced Mr. Arredondo, had resigned. The district spokeswoman did not give a reason for his departure.

Lawyers for the victims’ families said in a news release that the families did not want to pursue a protracted and costly lawsuit against the city that could have bankrupted the local government. The $2 million payment included in the settlement, which will be split among the families, will be covered by the city’s insurance, they said.

In addition to an existing memorial, the city agreed to designate May 24, the anniversary of the shooting, as a day of remembrance; build a community center; provide mental health services to survivors and families of victims; and to better maintain the cemetery where many victims are buried.

Several other lawsuits related to the shooting remain active against state and local police departments and against Daniel Defense, the manufacturer of the assault rifle used by the 18-year-old shooter.

Mr. Koskoff said the families were working on a settlement with Uvalde County and planned to sue the federal government and others.

Javier Cazares, the father of Jacklyn Cazares, who was 9 years old when she died at school, took the microphone at the press conference, held at the city’s civic center, to lament that few members of the public showed up when the implementation was announced to support the families. “This room should be full and then some,” he said.

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