In a Friday statement release through Laramie law firm Jacobs Polidora LLC, the family of Robbie Ramirez said they are “devastated and angry beyond words” in the wake of a grand jury’s decision not to indict Albany County sheriff’s deputy Derek Colling for the Nov. 4 killing of 39-year-old Ramirez.
“We all had faith in the justice system and it feels to us like the system has failed Robbie and our community as a whole,” the statement said. “Our fear is that the continued lack of repercussion is only serving to embolden Derek Colling’s instinct to shoot first. Rather than permitting officers to escalate a situation, we should be recognizing and rewarding police officers who show compassion and consideration for their constituents and weed out those that only seem to want to be police officers so that they can exert their power over others.”
Sarah Manwarren, an attorney with Jacobs Polidora, told the Laramie Boomerang the family doesn’t know whether a civil lawsuit will be filed against the county since the family still only “knows virtually the same information as the public.”
“The family is aware of the statute of limitations,” Manwarren said. “Until they receive an answer about what happened on Nov. 4, 2018, no one’s in a position to be able to say whether there will be a civil suit.”
The Friday statement from Ramirez’s family was largely written from the perspective of Debra Hinkel, Ramirez’s mother.
In the wake of Ramirez’s death, Hinkel criticized Sheriff David O’Malley’s decision to hire Colling while also praising the sheriff’s work on mental health issues in general.
Ramirez had a variant of schizophrenia and his reported fear of police has been perceived as causing his confrontational approach during the traffic stop that lead to his death.
His family has said Ramirez’s illness made him reclusive late in his life, often retreating to his apartment off Garfield Street when he felt uncomfortable. Ramirez was actually fleeing a traffic stop and arrived at his apartment Nov. 4 before the confrontation when Colling fatally shot him.
In the Friday statement, Hinkel said Colling’s actions do not reflect the police work of other officers in the county she considers to be her friends.
“I truly believe that there is not a single one of them who would have escalated this traffic stop into a fatal shooting,” she said. “I am sorry that they are going to be so strongly affected by the fear and anger this community will feel if Derek Colling is allowed to return to his duties with the Albany County Sheriff’s Department. I fear for this community if Derek Colling is allowed to continue to carry a weapon as part of his employment.”
At a forum hosted last week by Albany County for Proper Policing, a group created in the wake of Ramirez’s death, most attendees raised their hands when asked if they were “concerned about Derek Colling continuing to be part of our local force.”
Colling was placed on administrative leave after the shooting.
Albany County for Proper Policing plans to produce a report on that meeting that could suggest revisions to the hiring practices and training in the sheriff’s office.
Attendees at the forum also discussed policing practices that involve mental health issues. Public officials were discouraged from attending the meeting.
At an unrelated meeting last week with Albany County’s state lawmakers, O’Malley urged the need for more state funding in regard to mental health crises.
He said he’s too often required to hold mentally ill people in the county jail. That facility and his staff, he said, are not always equipped to handle the crises they encounter.
“Ever since I’ve been in law enforcement, we’ve added more prisons. We’ve added minimum and maximum security facilities, but we don’t have enough mental health beds. Our jail is serving as a mental health crisis unit,” he said. “It’s just gotten worse.”
Albany County Commissioner Heber Richardson also expressed concern at that meeting over the way mental issues and Wyoming law interact.
“Being mentally ill is not a lifestyle choice, but for some reason our law treats it like it’s a lifestyle choice,” he said.
Albany County Commissioners, with the support of O’Malley, have already ordered an outside review of the hiring practices of the sheriff’s office.
A separate community group in Cheyenne, Wyoming Alliance, also announced on Friday its plans to host a Jan. 23 meeting in Cheyenne to discuss “effective policing in the capital.”
A press release from that group described the meeting as a direct response to Ramirez’s shooting.