Instead of moving forward with an ad hoc committee to review statewide policing issues, Albany County commissioners directed County Attorney Peggy Trent on Tuesday to ask Wyoming Attorney General Bridget Hill to “examine these issues on a statewide basis.”
Trent told commissioners on Tuesday that she initially drafted a resolution for the county board to create a local committee addressing policing issues. Trent had initially proposed the committee, and was greeted with support from the commissioners, after local residents expressed concern about local policing at an April meeting.
However, Trent said she was warned by the Wyoming Local Liability Pool staff that the liability insurer would only be agreeable to the committee if both Sheriff David O’Malley and Hill signed off on the idea.
Expecting a lawsuit from the family of Robbie Ramirez, who was killed in Laramie by a sheriff’s deputy in November, the liability insurer has directed O’Malley and other county officials not to publicly discuss Ramirez’s death. Initially, the insurer suggested a local committee should not focus on local issues, lest that be seen a concession of wrongdoing regarding Ramirez’s death.
Tuesday’s commission meeting was one of the few times O’Malley has commented publicly about outcry around Ramirez’s death that’s brought more scrutiny to his office.
“Having to remain silent through all of this issue has been the most difficult thing that I’ve encountered in my career,” he said. “Were it up to me, the information that the 12 people who sat on the grand jury was able to see and hear should be available to all of our citizens. … The facts are that many fatal police shootings in our country involve people with mental health crises. It’s a huge issue, and hopefully working with Peggy and Debbie Hinkel and people on the (county’s) mental health board, that something positive might come out of this tragic situation.”
However, when commissioners sought approval from O’Malley on creating the local ad hoc committee, he said that statewide policing issues should not be addressed by Albany County alone.
“On the surface, I don’t believe this will be accepted well,” O’Malley said in an email to Commissioner Terri Jones leading up to Tuesday’s meeting. “Having an Albany County ad hoc committee investigating issues in other jurisdictions and making recommendations on how other jurisdictions should operate may be treading on a slippery slope. I seriously doubt that law enforcement administrators in Wyoming would support Albany County directing the course of their policy and training. If this is a recognized issue across the state, then it is something that should be addressed on a statewide basis through the Wyoming Attorney General’s Office.”
O’Malley told Jones in the email that he appreciates the desire for action.
“I fully understand the mental health issue, which is a national issue not isolated to Albany County,” O’Malley wrote. “Our people deal with it on a daily basis. It’s real, it’s recognized and it’s not going to go away. I also fully support what has become a cliche: de-escalation techniques. De-escalation techniques can work and be effective if there is the time and the opportunity to use them. I also know that people with mental health issues kill people and that some of those people are law enforcement personnel. I also know that suicidal people are homicidal people. If they’re capable of taking their own life, they’re capable of taking yours.”
Trent said Hill seems “amenable” to seriously considering some statewide action.
Under the new plan, Commissioner Pete Gosar said he worries the policing committee idea “just might die,” and he encouraged Trent to emphasize to Hill the importance of a review of statewide policing practices.
“There might be a greater sense of urgency in Albany County than there might be statewide,” Gosar said.
Rafael Delgadillo, a retired police officer, told the commissioners he felt the original plan of a local committee was a good idea, and shouldn’t be dropped just because there might be statewide interest.
“I don’t think that precludes Albany County having its own committee to review some of these things. Any insight that we can gather from experienced people … How can that not just help the state legislature or a state committee? You look for the best minds to discuss these things, and then you bring it to the forefront, and i think that’s something we should involved with in house.”
Delgadillo said Albany County Commissioners convening their own policing committee would be important “to have openness with the community, so that people buy into what you’re doing and support you.”
“Your roles, like the sheriff’s, is to provide leadership,” Delgadillo said.