Metro Atlanta sheriff reminds deputies of their duty after Uvalde massacre

Questions remain around the police response to Texas school shooting

As questions persist and outrage grows about the police response to a Texas elementary school shooting, Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds is reminding his deputies of their sworn duty to protect their community.

In a video released on social media and through internal channels, Reynolds reminds deputies of the policy to intervene when responding to active shooter situations.

“I want to remind you of your oath to support the Constitution of the United States and your adherence to the Cherokee Sheriff’s Office policy as it pertains to an active shooter,” Reynolds said in the video.

According to Cherokee Sheriff’s Office policy, the first responding officer has a duty to broadcast over the radio any additional information before entering a building for the expressed purpose of locating, confronting and neutralizing an armed suspect. An officer would have the option to use force as appropriate to stop the situation, including deadly force.

In the video, Reynolds asked anybody not willing to adhere to the policy to contact him immediately.

“I ask you to take a moment to again ponder this scenario. If you have any reservations as to your ability to perform this duty please notify me immediately,” he said.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Reynolds said the video was recorded last year during the sheriff’s office annual in-service training. It is also not the first time Reynolds has reminded deputies of their sworn duties following a school shooting.

Combined ShapeCaption
03/17/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds makes remarks during a press conference at the Atlanta Police Department Headquarters in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

03/17/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds makes remarks during a press conference at the Atlanta Police Department Headquarters in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 17, 2021.  (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
03/17/2021 —Atlanta, Georgia — Cherokee County Sheriff Frank Reynolds makes remarks during a press conference at the Atlanta Police Department Headquarters in Atlanta, Wednesday, March 17, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

In 2018, just after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Reynolds sent an internal letter to deputies thanking them for their commitment and reminding them to adhere to sheriff’s office policy “Response to In-Progress Violent Situations”.

“In light of some recent events, obviously Texas, a lot of our citizens were asking, ‘what are you doing in terms of preparing our officers?’ That video kind of summarized that expectation,” Reynolds told the AJC. “This is our policy, this is our level of expectation.”

Authorities in Texas said Friday as many as 19 officers waited in the hallway for more than 45 minutes at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas as students trapped inside a classroom with 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos repeatedly called 911. Steven McCraw, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, said the commander at the scene believed the gunman was barricaded inside adjoining classrooms and that children were no longer at risk.

“It was the wrong decision,” McCraw said at the press conference.

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Questions remain into what happened in the approximately 90 minutes that elapsed between the time Ramos entered the school and when U.S. Border Patrol agents unlocked the classroom door and killed him. Ramos killed 19 children and two teachers, but no motive has been revealed.

Teachers and children repeatedly called 911 asking for help, the AP reported. Authorities say Ramos slammed his Ford pickup into a ditch behind the school at 11:28 a.m. Tuesday before jumping out carrying an AR-15-style rifle.

Five minutes later, authorities said Ramos entered the school and found his way to a fourth grade classroom where he killed the 21 victims. It wasn’t until 12:58 p.m. that law enforcement radio chatter said Ramos had been killed and the siege was over, the AP reported.

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A group of Border Patrol tactical officers entered the school and engaged in a shootout with the gunman who was holed up in the fourth-grade classroom around 12:45 p.m. Reynolds said he is going to wait until all the facts and the investigation is complete to comment regarding the law enforcement response in Texas.

“It’s a tragedy. It’s a horrific event. I couldn’t imagine being in law enforcement there or being a parent. I’m devastated by that event. In terms of their response or law enforcement response, I don’t have enough facts to make a judgement. We need to wait and see what happens,” he said. “We need to learn from anything to make sure our response is what is expected from our community.”

Reynolds said every person and police will have doubts about going into a danger like an active shooter situation but that is the reason why training is important. The goal is to make sure officers are prepared and know exactly what they need to do when responding to a similar situation.

“We don’t want to make a poor decision in the moment. We want to figure those things out well in advance as an individual, as an organization, as a profession, we are always trying to learn,” he said. “We train and prepare for the worse of the worst in the hope that it never happens.”

In the coming weeks, Reynolds said the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office, along with local partner agencies, will be conducting active shooter training and will use previous shootings to learn lessons on things to do and not to do.

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- The Associated Press contributed to this report