Exclusive: Officer investigating Uvalde’s response ordered classroom breakup delayed

Uvalde, Texas

A Texas state police captain tried to delay a law enforcement team from entering the classrooms to end the massacre at Robb Elementary and is now among those investigating if a bystander initially ordered his officers to stay out of the school. response to the shooting, sources told CNN.

CNN has obtained new audio of Capt. Joel Betancourt ordering a strike group to wait more than 70 minutes after the attack began. Betancourt says he believed a more skilled team was on the way. Separately, the police memo highlights criticism of Betancourt, a 15-year veteran of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS).

The memo, written two days after the May 24 massacre and reviewed by CNN, details DPS’s involvement in the questionable but chaotic law enforcement response to the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Apart from the initial approach which was called off when the shooting started, for 77 minutes no action was taken against the gunfire or to help those caught in it. Nineteen children and two teachers were killed in the massacre.

“I heard someone yell, Capt. Betancourt said all DPS personnel should be on the perimeter, no (sic) into the building,” a DPS lieutenant said after writing how he drove about 40 miles away. 130 mph to get there.

A DPS sergeant added in his statement, “As this was clearly against established training, we both decided to enter the building where the shooter was.”

DPS Director Steven McCraw told CNN, “Yes, absolutely,” when asked if Betancourt was being investigated for telling officers not to go into the hallway. “The IG is investigating that,” McCraw said in an impromptu interview before a meeting last month.

Betancourt was interviewed multiple times in the immediate aftermath of the incident and has since become one of seven current and former DPS officers sent to investigate by the DPS inspector general, CNN reported, citing sources close to the incident who were not authorized to speak. the media

He told investigators he arrived at Robb Elementary around 12:45 p.m., minutes before the teenager was killed, sources said.

“Hey, this is Captain Betancourt of the DPS. The group that will break must remain still. The group that is going to break in must remain still,” he ordered at 12:48 a.m. on May 24, heard in the audio of a police radio broadcast captured on several officers’ body cameras.

During the investigation, Betancourt told investigators he had no first-hand knowledge of what was going on, including that a specialized tactical unit of the Border Patrol, BORTAC, was dealing with the shooter, according to sources familiar with the investigation. He said he ordered the team to stop because he believed a better unit was on the way, sources said.

He told officers that no one responded or followed the order, sources said.

The memos and audio reviewed by CNN offer evidence that contradicts the official DPS account that its officers were never in control or issuing significant orders. DPS Director McCraw has repeatedly criticized then-school district police chief Pedro “Pete” Arredondo for leading the “dismal failure” of a response. Arredondo said that he did not see himself as the commander of what happened.

CNN left messages for Betancourt by phone, email and text. He didn’t answer.

Betancourt continues to work with DPS.

DPS declined to comment for this story.

The two officers reported the initial response to the shooting, they were told not to enter the school. The officers did not say in their statement when they received that message. Betancourt told investigators he remembers telling DPS officers to stay outside and form a perimeter, but says that after they arrived, Uvalde Sheriff Ruben Nolasco told him there were too many people inside, according to sources. Nolasco did not respond to CNN’s requests for comment.

The names of the DPS officers investigating have not been publicly released. Betancourt’s involvement was confirmed to CNN by McCraw and other sources. Another of the seven, Crimson Elizondo, left DPS to work for the Uvalde school district this summer and was fired after CNN revealed what he said and did on the day of the massacre.

Betancourt, the top officer under investigation for a botched law enforcement response, told investigators he had little to do with the operation at Robb Elementary after the gunman was killed, sources close to the investigation told CNN.

Interviews in the days after the incident, described to CNN by multiple sources, provide the first first-hand accounts from the officers now under investigation by the inspector general.

Betancourt told investigators he had a clear memory of being in Eagle Pass, Texas, with other officers when the first call of a shooting came in around 11:50 a.m., he said, but it was unclear how serious the situation was. With details available, they left, Betancourt driving the 60 miles to Uvalde alone and saying he stopped for gas.

Betancourt told officers he didn’t have a body camera or dash cam recording him, according to sources. He said he talked to Nolasco, the Uvalde sheriff, on the phone while driving, and heard that a gunman was barricading the school “with an AK47,” sources said.

Betancourt told investigators he arrived around 12:45 a.m. and first assumed Nolasco was the scene commander when the school was out.

Later, when the school district’s police chief saw Arredondo inside after the gunman was killed and spoke with him, he told investigators at the time that he believed Arredondo was responsible. The Uvalde school board fired Arredondo in August, and has argued that he should be reinstated.

Betancourt was asked if he talked to anyone about why he wasn’t entering the classrooms and said he didn’t, sources told CNN, only recalling talking about negotiating with the shooter.

He told investigators that based on Nolasco’s information he had given the order to “stand by” and was still going to the school thinking there was a better SWAT team, sources said.

After the BORTAC team killed the teenage shooter, Betancourt said he focused on cleaning up the crime scene and establishing a command post. He told investigators how he used FaceTime to show his superiors the state of the school after the massacre, sources familiar with the conversations said.

In a follow-up interview, she said she didn’t know there were children in the building until after the break-in, CNN was told.

At least two officers said Betancourt was the one who tipped them off about the ongoing assault at Robb Elementary, sources familiar with the investigation told CNN.

A sergeant said he received a text from Betancourt about an “active shooter” incident around 11:37 a.m., raising questions about who Betancourt later said was involved.

And Victor Escalone, DPS regional director for the Texas South Region, which includes Uvalde, said Betancourt texted him at 12:09 p.m. The text read: “Initial information a person may be a teacher shot in the head, an officer has been shot, the child has an AK 47, CNU [specialist negotiator team] activated, the suspect is barricaded. Soldiers who are doctors have been deployed. The drone team is on its way,” the sources said.

McCraw and other DPS leaders have declined to discuss or release information about the internal investigation pending the completion of the investigation at the request of District Attorney Christina Mitchell Busbee. His criminal investigation could take years and he has said he will prosecute anyone who committed a crime at Robb Elementary, including law enforcement officers.

CNN is among a coalition of news organizations suing DPS over records related to the investigation, including radio transmissions and body camera footage referenced in this story, that were withheld from the media and the public.