By Daniel Bendtsen
Via Wyoming News Exchange
LARAMIE — Derek Colling, a deputy in the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, will not be indicted for the November fatal shooting of Laramie man Robbie Ramirez.
A grand jury convened by Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent opted not to indict Colling for involuntary manslaughter this week.
Trent said this was the first time a grand jury has ever been convened in Wyoming for an officer-involved shooting.
“The results of the grand jury were very expected given the undisputed facts of the case,” said Tom Jubin, Derek Colling’s attorney. “Derek did what he had to do. 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.”
Grand juries can, at the request of a prosecutor, make the decision on whether criminal charges should be filed in a case.
Before the grand jury made its decision Thursday, Trent presented evidence over the course of two days.
That evidence included crime scene photos, video footage form Colling’s body camera and dashboard camera, recordings of radio traffic, toxicology reports, autopsy report photos, an audio interview with Colling, and “expert reports on the use of force” from Non-Lethal Defense, Inc., of Casper, and Daigle Law Group of Southington, Connecticut.
Trent said in a press release that a grand jury was the most appropriate course of action to allow “citizens to examine evidence and testimony to determine whether the actions or inactions by law enforcement in using deadly force are within and consistent with the general industry standard for officer involved shootings and whether in this instance actions were within Albany County Sheriff’s Office policy and training guidelines and met with national use of force training standards.”
“This process provides a means for accountability of law enforcement agencies and officers to ensure local policies and national standards are adhered to when deadly force is used,” Trent’s press release states.
Albany County Sheriff David O’Malley did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon.
The grand jury decision comes six days after a forum held by Albany County for Proper Policing, a group created in the wake of Ramirez’s death.
At that forum, Laramie residents discussed possible changes to training at the sheriff’s office. The group also explored the possibility of a “community accountability board,” which would oversee local policing.
Grand juries may have been commonplace in the early history of Wyoming, but they’ve since become exceedingly rare.
Eliza Stewart Boyd famously became the first American woman to sit on a jury in 1870. Her achievement came as part of a grand jury in Laramie.
Albany County Clerk of District Court Janice Sexton said there has not been a grand jury convened at the Laramie courthouse since at least before January 1992. That’s when the office’s longest tenured employee, Stacy Lam, began work there.
“I don’t think we’ve ever had one,” Sexton said.
She knows of only three counties — Natrona, Laramie and Campbell — where county employees can remember a grand jury being convened.
Julie Goyen, spokeswoman for the Wyoming Administrative Office of the Courts, told the Laramie Boomerang she wasn’t sure if there are even records at the state level of when a grand jury has been convened.
The proceedings of a grand jury — and even its existence — are shrouded in secrecy.
In all Albany County District Court jury trials, a clerk from Sexton’s office sits in on all proceedings. A clerk is there even for a juvenile trial, from which all members of the public are barred.
But not for a grand jury. Sexton’s staff was responsible for getting a jury pool to show up this week. They had about 55 potential jurors show up on Monday — a little higher than the standard of 48.
After that point, no one from Sexton’s office sits in on the proceedings.
“We all are still learning about this grand jury thing,” she said.
Her staff, as well as jurors, are sworn to secrecy.
Under Wyoming statute, members of a grand jury are required to “keep secret matters occurring before the grand jury unless disclosure is directed or permitted by the court.”
During a Nov. 4 traffic stop, Colling fatally shot Ramirez near Garfield Street, between 21st and 22nd streets.
Colling, who has since been placed on administrative leave, also fatally shot a teenager in 2009, then was later fired from the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department in 2011 after beating a man who was filming police.
Colling was born and raised in Laramie. Ramirez, 39, had a variant of schizophrenia and his family told the Laramie Boomerang that Colling knew Ramirez and was aware of his mental health issues.