The Wyoming Department of Criminal Investigation (DCI) released its report this week to the Laramie Boomerang on the fatal shooting of Robbie Ramirez by Albany County Sheriff’s Corporal Derek Colling.
DCI had refused for weeks to release the report to several media outlets, the American Civil Liberties Union, and Albany County for Proper Policing before public pressure convinced the agency to relent.
The DCI report was a primary source of information used by Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent in her closed-door presentation to a grand jury that decided not to indict Colling on criminal charges.
After reading the report—which omits critical information about Colling’s violent history and portrays Ramirez as a troublesome criminal—it’s not hard to understand why the grand jury declined to indict.
Erasing Colling’s history of violence
Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the DCI report is its failure to adequately address Colling’s history of use of force.
The report completely leaves out mention of the 2011 incident in which Colling assaulted a bystander in Las Vegas, which cost Colling his job with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The victim in that case won a $100,000 civil settlement against the LVMPD. This assault and Colling’s on-duty killing of two other civilians in Las Vegas encouraged Albany County residents to protest Colling’s hiring as a patrol deputy by Sheriff Dave O’Malley in 2013.
The report mentions Colling’s participation in a fatal shooting in Las Vegas in 2006 and his fatal shooting in 2009 of 15 year-old Tanner Chamberlain. But it dismisses both incidents as a justified use of force.
Further, the report does not acknowledge that Chamberlain’s mother, who witnessed her son’s killing, attempted to sue Colling and the city of Las Vegas for wrongful death. In that case, another LVMPD officer was present and attempting to de-escalate the situation. But Colling drew his sidearm and shot Chamberlain in the head within one minute of arriving on the scene. Colling was the only officer to draw his sidearm. The officer attempting to de-escalate the situation, unlike Colling, had received Crisis Intervention Training (CIT).
The DCI report includes Colling’s admission that he was well aware that CIT training was available to him as an Albany County Sheriff’s Corporal. But even after killing two people in the line of duty and assaulting another—and receiving, as the DCI report says, “a great deal of training”—Colling opted to not pursue CIT that could have helped him de-escalate tense encounters and avoid killing yet another civilian.
Hand-to-hand combat expert
The DCI report takes pains to portray Colling as a sympathetic character faced with a terrible situation. Among the humanizing details it includes is a list of Colling’s favorite hobbies: hunting, skiing, and fishing.
The report does not mention the fact that Colling passionately pursues another hobby: Krav Maga, a military self-defense and fighting system developed for the Israeli Defense Forces.
Colling is a Krav Maga instructor at Laramie Fitness. According to his instructor profile, he is a Black Belt Gold Star Certified Instructor through Krav Maga Alliance, as well as an accomplished instructor in Police Defense Tactics. He also has experience in Jiu Jitsu, Escrima, Judo, Tae Kwon Do, Karate, Boxing, and Wrestling.
The DCI report mentions none of this. But it does include an interview summary in which Colling claims that, during his confrontation with Ramirez, he was scared and had become “tired and weak.” The report says Colling thought Ramirez, who was unarmed, could potentially kill him by punching him.
Despite his alleged fear, Colling pursued Ramirez without waiting for backup before engaging in a confrontation and ultimately killing him.
Ramirez’s (runaway dog) legal record
Aside from a mention by Ramirez’s mother that he sometimes liked to go skateboarding, the DCI report’s description of the victim portrays him as a mentally ill, unstable criminal who possesses significant violent powers.
The report relates that Colling said he had “heard stories from other law enforcement personnel about Ramirez’ struggle with his mental illness and some of the stories indicated that Ramirez was potentially very violent.”
It explains that local law enforcement had come into contact with Ramirez 98 times since 2003, and summarizes several encounters in which Ramirez was allegedly “exhibiting violent behavior” or was overcome by “his apparent schizophrenia.” These included welfare checks, assists with hospital staff, and incidents involving Ramirez’s family.
Debra Hinkel, Ramirez’s mother, expressed frustration with DCI’s characterization of Ramirez’s contact with law enforcement at an April meeting of the Albany County Commission.
“They don’t mention the fact that the majority of [these contacts] were over his runaway dog,” Hinkel said.
Body camera goes black, no sheriff’s reports
Colling’s body camera captured the events leading up to his killing Ramirez. But his body camera became unplugged shortly before Colling fired the fatal shots. The DCI report does not mention that Colling’s body camera became unplugged, but it uses body camera footage to corroborate parts of Colling’s version of the events.
The report also does not mention that Colling shot Ramirez twice in the back.
Officers from the Laramie Police Department who arrived on the scene after Ramirez’s killing filed reports about the incident. But neither Colling nor any other member of the Albany County Sheriff’s Office filed their own report, despite a sheriff’s corporal’s direct involvement in the killing. In an email to ACoPP, which inquired about reports from his office, Sheriff O’Malley replied that, “The only investigative reports are those of DCI.”
An agency not writing reports would be unacceptable in any investigation of a civilian.
The need for community oversight
The bias presented in the DCI report highlights the need for more transparency and accountability of law enforcement. It suggests that law enforcement agencies should receive oversight not only from other law enforcement agencies, but from established civilian oversight boards.
In the upcoming months, ACoPP will organize a community forum to inform and engage Albany County residents in a discussion about police oversight boards. Hundreds of these exist across the county, ensuring law enforcement agencies remain accountable to the communities they police.
ACoPP will share research about different models and experiences of community oversight boards across the United States and request input from Albany County residents.
This forum will be the beginning of a meaningful conversation that will result in improved law enforcement in Albany County.