For many, it’s been an emotional and disturbing time since the fatal shooting of Laramie resident Robbie Ramirez by an Albany County Sheriff’s deputy in the heart of our city and campus community.
Ramirez was reportedly driving at around 15 mph west on Grand Avenue when Sheriff’s Corporal Derek Colling initiated a stop, suspecting the driver of potentially being impaired or experiencing a medical emergency.
Things escalated when Ramirez questioned why he was being pulled over and resisted rolling down his vehicle’s window. Events transpired which ultimately turned into a physical confrontation when a clearly-agitated Ramirez exited his vehicle. This resulted in Colling attempting to use his Taser to stop any potential hostile action. The device failed to hit Ramirez and the two scuffled as the deputy drew his firearm; Ramirez sustained fatal wounds from multiple gunshots fired by Corporal Colling.
The available video shows that Ramirez was aggressive in the interaction. Family and friends have indicated he had a known history with mental illness and with Colling, both of which could have contributed to Ramirez’s reaction to the situation.
It is apparent, too, that Ramirez, while hostile, was not carrying a firearm or any other dangerous weapons.
That’s essentially what we know now. Multiple other factors have been suggested in social media forums, but very little has been confirmed by knowledgeable officials. Little comfort is then left for those reasonably concerned about what transpired on Nov. 4. Family, other loved ones and several interested parties within the community remain deeply concerned that the shooting was unjustified especially when they factor in the past history of Corporal Colling. Would another deputy sheriff have responded in the same manner?
It’s not always a good idea to consider past history as an indication of guilt. In this case, however, we find it hard not to consider past actions when looking at what transpired.
First we need to say those concerns are legitimate. People have a right to be upset when a reportedly mentally ill and unarmed individual is slain by a law enforcement officer during a routine traffic stop. Was the deputy’s reason for pulling Ramirez over legitimate? We say yes. How it transpired from there, however, leaves us filled with questions we cannot answer. We want answers to those questions.
We are not interested in making judgments on the basis of information on social media and encourage others to refrain from doing so. We will reserve judgment as to whether this shooting was justified until we have more to go on.
Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent received praise from this board at the onset of the investigation for saying she wanted a transparent process. We implore our recently re-elected prosecutor to stick to that initial position of making this as open a process as possible. The case is currently being investigated by the state Division of Criminal Investigation.
If it comes down to a prosecution of wrongdoing on the deputy’s part, then there are pieces of information that must remain out of the public sphere until potential court proceedings — we understand that and we are not saying getting to the bottom of the matter will be simple. But an investigation such as this should have benchmarks or deadlines that can be shared with the public without jeopardy. Providing that kind of information can help maintain public trust. Failing to do so only feeds the suspicions of those who have already formed their conclusions and potentially leads others to fear public trust is being violated. We insist that some kind of update be provided in the very near future, whether that’s a timeline for a completion of the investigation or just an update to let the public know where it stands, something must happen soon.
Trent would likely point to the limited sharing of the available body- and dashcam footage to select media and citizenry after the incident as evidence she is keeping the public informed. While appreciated, it doesn’t have the necessary mileage to quell public fears.
Corporal Colling’s bodycam failed to record the entire altercation and, as a result, corroborating video evidence is only partially available. This malfunction for whatever reason adds concerning questions of why the bodycam failed to serve its purpose. All this should be enough to convince Trent and other law enforcement officials that more information must be revealed as soon as possible.
Another related matter has to do with Trent’s comments on Wyoming Public Radio. On the Nov.16 broadcast of the Open Spaces program, she said a circumstance of “civil unrest” at least in-part led to the release of the available video evidence to the media. Legislation regarding public access to body- and dashcam videos also played a part in her decision.
We appreciate Trent’s observations that there was great concern and a need to correct misinformation. And we can’t say for certain what Trent was thinking when describing “civil unrest.” We understand that some of the comments on social media were beyond the pale, but that shouldn’t be interpreted as any sort of public-safety danger or building rebellion against institutions, as one might assume by the term “civic unrest.”
The most notable public actions in response to the incident have all fallen in the category of being reasonable and, we think, warranted. Those actions include the skate park memorial, several letters to the editor and the efforts of the American Civil Liberties Union of Wyoming and a newly-organized group, Albany County for Proper Policing, or ACoPP, which delivered a constitutionally-protected petition to county officials.
The efforts by these groups to demand public information through legal means is not “unrest;” it is citizens exercising their civic duty.
We appreciate the efforts of our recently re-elected county officials through their years of public service. Many of us know and respect Sheriff Dave O’Malley and recognize that he’s largely been a positive force in our community. But when it comes to the hiring of Deputy Derek Colling, who Sheriff O’Malley publicly defended four years ago, we think it’s important, when all the evidence is available, that he and the department must be able to answer an important question: Do you regret making this hire or not?
Only about 27 percent of all law enforcement officers say they have ever fired their service weapon while on the job, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted by the National Police Research Platform.
In 2006, Derek Colling was one of five officers to shoot and kill Shawn Jacob Collins, 43, after the man pulled a gun at a Nevada gas station. Then, in September 2009, he shot and killed 15-year-old Tanner Chamberlain in Las Vegas. Colling was later fired from Las Vegas’s police department in 2011 after beating a man who was filming police. Both shootings were found to be justified, but the latter incident was clearly uncalled for and extremely dangerous.
The Boomerang reported in December 2014 that Sheriff O’Malley was standing by his decision to hire Colling, and called him “the right man for the job.” To have a sincerely-questionable shooting incident involving this particular deputy now makes that hiring decision even more questionable.
There is no winner in this situation and whatever happens, there will be those who feel justice has not been served. We call upon our county attorney to make sure the public has all the facts in this case to mitigate that perception.