The Albany County Sheriff’s Office hired a deputy roughly three years ago who was fired from the police force in Las Vegas after allegations that he beat a man who was videoing police.
Deputy Derek Colling was fired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department following an eight-month investigation into the March 20, 2011, incident in Las Vegas, which the Laramie Boomerang learned about from an email tip Friday.
Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley stands by his decision to hire Colling, whom O’Malley said was born and raised in Laramie.
O’Malley said Colling was the “best man for the job,” came highly recommended from Las Vegas police peers and supervisors and has had an exemplary record during his three years in Albany County.
Furthermore, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department didn’t move to decertify Colling as a police officer, which would have blacklisted him from serving anywhere in the country, O’Malley said.
“I wasn’t there, I didn’t investigate him, but I know that, in looking at the backgrounds of people that I talked to, everyone stood behind (Colling) but the top-end,” O’Malley said. “What the ultimate motivation for that dismissal was — I don’t know.”
Las Vegas resident Mitchell Crooks, a freelance videographer, accused Colling, an officer of six years at the time, of beating him when he refused to stop videoing police as they investigated a burglary across the street from his residence.
A video of the confrontation posted on YouTube was viewed more than 100,000 times.
Police arrested Crooks during the incident for battery against an officer, trespassing and resisting arrest, but the charges were later dropped.
Las Vegas attorney David Otto filed a federal civil lawsuit against Colling on behalf of Crooks in U.S. District Court, naming the Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department as well.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department eventually paid the plaintiffs $100,000 in a March 2012 settlement, Otto said.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department also conducted an internal investigation into the matter and concluded in 2011 that Colling violated several of the department’s policies. Police did not release the specific policy violations.
After the investigation, Gillespie made the final decision to dismiss Colling.
Both Crooks and Colling had made headlines before the incident.
Albany County Undersheriff Rob DeBree said Crooks had a history of following police and videoing them.
“He’s got a habit of doing that,” DeBree said. “In the state of California, he’s well-known for doing that.”
In 2002, Crooks videotaped two Inglewood, California, police officers beating a 16-year-old boy, according to articles in the LA Times.
Crooks sold the video to various news outlets and was later arrested when the sudden fame brought to light outstanding warrants “stemming from a night of reckless behavior in February 1999,” according to the LA Times.
Crooks was charged with drunk driving, hit-and-run and petty theft.
On the one hand, California police said Crooks — reportedly struggling to make money at the time — was opportunistic and using the videos to make money and gain fame, according to the LA Times.
On the other hand, civil rights advocates and Crooks’ friends and family said the arrest was meant to deflect attention from the beating of 16-year-old Donovan Jackson, according to the LA Times.
Before the incident with Crooks, Colling was involved in two fatal shootings in Las Vegas.
In 2006, he and four other officers shot and killed Shawn Jacob Collins, 43, after the man pulled a gun at a gas station, according to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In 2009, Colling shot and killed Tanner Chamberlain, a mentally ill 15-year-old who was holding a knife to his mother’s throat, according to the Review-Journal article.
Both shootings were cleared from wrongdoing by Clark County coroner’s juries.
O’Malley said he made the decision to hire Colling fully aware of his history in Las Vegas.
“He was terminated — I knew that when I hired him,” O’Malley said. “But … I really take more credence in the guys that he worked with and his supervisors’ opinions than I do some guy with four stars on his shoulder sitting in his office in some large metropolitan. I’m really glad that I gave him a chance. We discussed it. It wasn’t a decision that we made lightly.”
Colling first tested for a position at the Albany County Detention Center about three years ago, O’Malley said.
He scored first on the written test, first on the physical assessment and was lead candidate in an interview panel, he said.
The Sheriff’s Office then did an extensive background check, speaking with 20-30 members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Everyone spoke highly of Colling, O’Malley said.
When asked what ultimately outweighed his concern after hearing Colling was fired following the Las Vegas police internal investigation, O’Malley answered:
“Derek. The manner in which he carries himself, the manner in which he communicates. Again, he’s been at the top of everything he’s involved in since he was here.”
After he was hired to work in the Detention Center, Colling went to the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy.
He graduated in March 2013 first in his class. He was also awarded Top Shooter, Top Physical Fitness, Top Academic and Top Graduate — the first person to sweep all categories at the academy, according to a letter written by O’Malley and given to the Boomerang.
O’Malley said these qualifications in combination with what he heard from the Las Vegas police officers swayed his decision in favor of hiring Colling.
“Quite frankly, the way things happen in big cities aren’t the way things happen in small communities,” he said. “In big cities, politics play more of a role. If you’ve got a guy (in a big city) who’s been in two or three things that are high profile, you know, maybe it’s just easier to get rid of him.”
To this day, O’Malley said he stands behind his decision to hire Colling, who has served without any disciplinary action in Albany County.
“I’ve never seen anything that gave me any pause at all, and I’m still glad that I hired him, because he’s been a really good addition to our organization,” he said. “I can’t say enough about him from that regard.”