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Wrongful death lawsuit against former sheriff's deputy reaches settlement

A picture with the caption "In loving memory of Robbie Ramirez" is printed on a skateboard.
Tennessee Watson
Wyoming Public Radio

A settlement has been reached in a wrongful death lawsuit against the Albany County Sheriff's Office and one of its former deputies.

In late 2018, then-deputy Derek Colling shot and killed Robbie Ramirez following a traffic stop in Laramie. Ramirez was unarmed and living with mental illness.

Then-deputy Colling had a history of violence as a police officer in Las Vegas, and the shooting in Laramie sparked a local movement for police accountability. But a grand jury, which met behind closed doors, decided not to bring any criminal charges against Colling in early 2019.

After that, Ramirez's mother, Debbie Hinkel, brought a wrongful death lawsuit against Colling, the sheriff's department and the county government. The lawsuit stretched over almost two years and a settlement was reached in May.

Details of that settlement are not public.

The law firm representing Hinkel said in a statement that Ramirez's mother had found answers to many of her questions during the lawsuit – such as how Colling was hired in the first place and whether the grand jury process was conducted properly.

"Debra Hinkel is satisfied that, in her opinion, and within the limits of our civil justice system, the Defendants Colling, (then-Sheriff Dave) O'Malley and Albany County have been held to account for Robbie's senseless wrongful death," the statement reads. "While neither Ms. Hinkel, nor her lawyers from the Spence Law Firm, will have any comment on the details of the settlement, Ms. Hinkel believes that she accomplished what she set out to achieve, which was to find out what happened and why."

The statement says Hinkel and her lawyers are prohibited by the court from sharing that information, but they would cooperate with any special prosecutor wishing to reopen the case.

"She has done her job, now it's up to the relevant public officials and agencies to do theirs," the statement reads.

Hinkel said she's moving forward in her push for police reform and accountability.

"With the lawsuit now over, Ms. Hinkel turns her attention to seeking reforms she believes are necessary to address the serious issues revealed in her lawsuit," the statement reads. "Reforms she will seek from both the Albany County Commissioners, the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy and the Wyoming State Legislature – reforms that will protect both the police/deputies as well as the community."

Those reforms include making crisis intervention training mandatory, and having police shootings reviewed by entities other than the state's Department of Criminal Investigations, which regularly works with the agencies it would have to investigate.

The statement praises the new sheriff, Aaron Appelhans, for "his efforts to clean house and right the ship." Colling was moved to a position in the detention center shortly after Appelhans took office and later resigned. Appelhans also fired a corporal who has been accused in a separate federal lawsuit of leading a "years-long racist tirade."

The statement also lays out Hinkel's other plans for Laramie.

"Debra and the family plan on introducing 'Robbie’s House,' a clubhouse model designed to create a community for people that are living with mental illness in order to help them to experience the positive aspects of being part of a caring, accepting and compassionate community that encourages them to be the best that they can be, and to also contribute to the well-being of others through friendship and communication," the statement reads.

Jeff is a part-time reporter for Wyoming Public Media, as well as the owner and editor of the Laramie Reporter, a free online news source providing in-depth and investigative coverage of local events and trends.
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