LARAMIE — A short, straight-forward news release from the Albany County Sheriff ’s Office early Thursday morning came as a welcome sigh of relief for many members of the Laramie community.
Those same people also would say the resignation of Sheriff Cpl. Derek Colling was too long in coming.
Recently appointed Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans released a two-sentence statement at about 9 a.m. Thursday. “Cpl. Derek Colling has submitted his resignation effective June 2, 2021, and is no longer employed with the Albany County Sheriff ’s Office,” it said. “No additional information will be provided regarding this personnel matter.”
Colling has been a focal point of tension in the community since shortly after Nov. 4, 2018. A sheriff ’s deputy at the time, Colling shot and killed Robert “Robbie” Ramirez when a traffic stop went awry near Ramirez’s apartment on Garfield Street.
Several stories published in the Laramie Boomerang since then detailed the preliminary investigations. There were those who were shocked about the event that transpired, knowing Ramirez suffered from mental health concerns, as well as Colling’s past record of using deadly force in July 2006 and September 2009 during his law enforcement career in Las Vegas.
Colling was cleared in both instances by officials with a ruling that one of the shootings was justified and the other cleared in a federal appellate court. He was later fired after another investigation, in which Las Vegas officials found him violating police policies in a beating and arrest incident. He returned to Laramie and was hired by former Albany County Sheriff Dave O’Malley in 2012.
There were also those who defended Colling, pointing to his successful career and advancement in law enforcement, despite those prior incidents.
Also well publicized was the appointment of a grand jury to investigate Ramirez’s death. Former Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent said at the time it was the first time a grand jury has been convened in Wyoming for an officer-involved shooting.
The grand jury’s decision was to not indict Colling for involuntary manslaughter.
“Derek did what he had to do,” Tom Jublin, Colling’s attorney, said after the decision was reported by the Boomerang on Jan. 10, 2019. “He feels great sadness over the fact that he had to take a life to do his job. He has expressed sympathy for Robbie’s family.”
Colling was later moved from patrol duties to an investigator/detective position with the sheriff’s office.
Six days prior to the grand jury decision, a forum was held by Albany County for Proper Policing, a group created shortly after Ramirez’s death. The group is still together to this day and states on its website, “We are a group of concerned Albany County residents demanding transparency, accountability and community oversight of elected officials and law enforcement.”
ACoPP also released a statement Thursday morning about Colling’s resignation.
“Derek Colling turning in his badge and gun is because of the efforts made by this community that fought for justice for Robbie Ramirez,” said Karlee Provenza, ACoPP executive director, in the news release.
The ACoPP statement also says “Colling’s resignation is accountability, but it is not justice.”
Tensions in Laramie surrounding Colling’s continued employment with the sheriff’s office rose again last year after the George Floyd murder by Minneapolis Police on May 25, 2020, dominated national news. Throughout the summer, daily and then weekly protests were focused on both national events and the local issue surrounding police brutality.
The ACoPP statement continued, “Colling’s resignation also comes during the ongoing investigation by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Office that began in January 2020 after Albany County for Proper Policing and Ramirez’s mother, Debra Hinkel, urged POST to decertify Colling.
ACoPP submitted 2,600 petition signatures to POST in support of termination and decertification of Colling – they have been in conversations with that agency since.
“… Prior to today’s announcement of Colling’s resignation, New Yorker reporter Abe Streep reported last month that Colling had been reassigned to the Albany County Detention Center.”
Hinkel, who was appointed as a representative in a potential wrongful death claim in March 2020 and filed a federal lawsuit in September 2020, said in the ACoPP release, “There’s a lot of work ahead of us to ensure that I’m not having to help someone else get justice for their child, but for now I can take a breath and take another step toward justice for my son.”
Hinkel has also asked a judge to release records from the grand jury investigation of the shooting.