From The Texas Newsroom:
A special committee of the Texas House of Representatives meets Thursday morning to investigate last month’s shooting in Uvalde, including the much-criticized response by police.
But most of the testimony will take place behind closed doors — preventing the public from hearing law enforcement officials discuss the shooting that killed 19 kids and two teachers.
Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, said the three-person committee will try to better understand “who played what part” and how the state can address police response to mass shootings moving forward.
“Our goal, our task isn’t necessarily to cast aspersions or make accusations,” Moody, who is part of the committee, said in an interview with KTEP on Monday. “Our goal is simply to lay the facts there for the community there in Uvalde but also the community at large.”
Moody is the sole Democrat on the House investigatory committee, chaired by Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. Eva Guzman, a former Republican member of the Texas Supreme Court, is a public member.
House Speaker Dade Phelan said last week the committee was formed in response to the lack of clear facts surrounding the shooting.
“Every day, we receive new information that conflicts with previous reports, making it not only difficult for authorities to figure out next steps, but for the grieving families of the victims to receive closure,” Phelan said in a news release. “I established this investigative committee for the dedicated purpose of gathering as much information and evidence as possible to help inform the House’s response to this tragedy and deliver desperately needed answers to the people of Uvalde and the State of Texas.”
It’s also unclear who specifically will testify before the group on Thursday.
In a statement, Burrows said Wednesday “the committee will be interviewing member(s) of the Texas Department of Public Safety and reviewing physical evidence.”
No more details were provided by Rep. Burrows, and he declined to be interviewed for this story.
After the shooting, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) came under fire for walking back some of the initial details provided to the public, including around the police response.
DPS has now said at some point during the shooting, there were 19 law enforcement officers — from different agencies — in the hallway of Robb Elementary School, who waited over 70 minutes to confront the shooter.
That contradicts earlier accounts from Gov. Greg Abbott and DPS, which indicated a school resource officer engaged the 18-year-old shooter prior to his entrance, and that it took police about 60 minutes to kill him.
DPS has also now said that kids inside the classroom were calling 911, asking dispatch to send help since the shooter was killing more students and teachers.
Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, has asked DPS for the criminal response report of the shooting, but it has been denied.
Gutierrez said DPS has told him the Uvalde district attorney is now in charge of the investigation.
“The criminal response report is what the community expects and deserves, and they were getting it piecemeal,” Gutierrez told The Texas Newsroom on Wednesday. “They were getting it with more questions and answers, and every time we heard something, it turned out not to be true.”
Gutierrez slammed the House investigative committee on Wednesday for its decision to shield the public and the grieving families from testimony provided by witnesses.
According to the official notice of Thursday’s hearing, “the committee will meet to hear invited testimony from law enforcement authorities related to the facts and circumstances of the events relating to the violent acts, shootings, and murders at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde. Because of the quasi-judicial nature of the committee’s investigation and pursuant to House Rule 4, Section 12, witnesses will be examined in executive session.”
Sen. Gutierrez, who represents Uvalde, told The Texas Newsroom the decision to allow witnesses to testify in private was “just another lack of transparency.”
“This is the most infamous day in Texas history as far as criminal response time goes,” Gutierrez said. “And it will remain shrouded as long as Greg Abbott and the leaders in [the Texas Capitol] want it to remain shrouded.”
In a tweet, the Texas District and County Attorneys Association said the “committee can compel the appearance of any witness, but to compel incriminating information, the committee must immunize the witness–which prevents that person from being prosecuted in the real (not “quasi-“) judicial system.”