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Independent reviews of Uvalde shooting may produce limited results

Uvalde leaders are leaning on outside investigators to answer questions about the shooting at Robb Elementary. But these inquiries' results may not be comprehensive.

UVALDE, Texas — Independent analysts reviewing law enforcement's response to the crisis at Robb Elementary may not have legal tools needed to produce comprehensive reports. 

The U.S. Department of Justice is leading the highest-profile outside inquiry.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland said Wednesday he expects interviewees will volunteer information. 

"We've been invited by the mayor," he said. "We've been promised, assured, welcomed - with respect to cooperation - by every level of law enforcement."

But it's not clear whether key decision-makers are currently cooperating with the Texas Rangers' investigation. 

The Department of Public Safety has said school police chief Pete Arredondo, the commander who allegedly chose not to barge in the classroom and kill the gunman, didn't respond to requests for a follow-up interview about the incident.

Arredondo disputed the claim, though he hasn't publicly answered questions about the shooting. 

Federal analysts will not have power to demand cooperation with their review. 

"You can imagine they'd want to talk to individuals at the scene, but there's a high probability some of these folks are going to get sued," former U.S. Attorney Gregg Sofer told KENS 5 last month. "Making statements about exactly what happened... may or may not be something they're wanting or willing to do."

Sofer noted the office charged with leading the inquiry does not have subpoena power, nor does it usually conduct after-action reviews. 

Instead, this office of Community-Oriented Policing Services (COPS) is generally responsible for allocating federal grants to local law enforcement agencies. 

Gov. Greg Abbott has asked the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT) organization to conduct an after-action review. It does not have subpoena power, either. 

There is a state panel capable of compelling testimony, though. House speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, recently appointed a three-member committee to lead a special investigation into the tragedy. 

"They have subpoena power, which is a serious thing and they need to wield it seriously," said Scott Braddock, a political analyst and editor for Quorum Report.

But a legislative subpoena triggers legal protections for witnesses, effectively immunizing them from some criminal liability. 

State law says "if a person testifies or produces a document while claiming that the testimony or document may incriminate him, the person may not be indicted or prosecuted for any transaction, matter, or thing about which the person truthfully testified or produced evidence."

"It's a little trickier than saying, 'Look, they have the power to force these people to come talk," Braddock said. "There are consequences to them making that decision." 

Most of the committee's work will take place behind closed doors. It meets for the first time Thursday.

"Whatever our understanding is of their investigation will be completely shaped by the lawmakers themselves," Braddock said. 

The Texas Rangers' criminal investigation, led by the Uvalde district attorney, may be the only inquiry capable of producing a comprehensive, accessible report. 

The state has promised transparency, though it may take time. 

"We're looking at investigations that might take 5,6,7 months or more," Braddock said. 

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