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Albany County Sheriff's Office Looks To Move Forward

Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans
Albany County Sheriff's Department
Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans

This week Corporal Derek Colling from the Albany County Sheriff's office resigned. Colling shot and killed Laramie resident Robbie Ramirez during a traffic stop in 2018. Ramirez was unarmed. Colling was hired after having been fired from the Las Vegas police department following an altercation with a photographer. He had also killed two people while working for that department and many objected when former Sheriff Dave O'Malley hired him.

After the death of Ramirez, many were outraged and demanded Colling's dismissal and for charges to be filed against him. A $20 million wrongful death lawsuit has been filed and efforts are underway to decertify Colling so that he can't work again. Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans said he can't discuss the details behind Colling's resignation, who he recently transferred to work in the Detention Center, but now that Colling has resigned, the Sheriff admitted that there is work that needs to be done.

"There's definitely some healing that'll need to be done between the department and the community," he said. "We knew that coming in and both the department and the community said as much when I took over and so we're continuing that process as we move along through my tenure here."

Appelhans said one thing that's clear is that the department needs to do things differently.

"Definitely a multifaceted approach. There are a whole host of issues that the community would like to see from their law enforcement and specifically my department, and so we've tried to work and build those partnerships in all areas, from how we respond to people that are in mental health crisis and the services that are provided to those people within the community, training and de-escalation techniques, and trying to provide more for officers so that we're better prepared and better equipped to handle all the situations that come our way," said Appelhans.

Appelhans noted that law enforcement has always had challenges responding to those with mental health issues. He said their approach will involve a number of people.

"Not only just trying to provide the training but also partnering with a lot of other groups and entities and doctors and hospitals and everybody that's involved with those situations to try and find a better way how we can provide hope for people that are in mental health crisis," said Appelhans. "And find a way to either better navigate the criminal justice system or avoid the criminal justice system altogether," he added.

Wyoming Legislature
Laramie State Rep. Karlee Provenza

Laramie State Rep. Karlee Provenza has been working hard on trying to reform policing in Albany County ever since Colling killed Ramirez. She's also behind the effort to get him decertified. Provenza heads the organization Albany County for Proper Policing. She is encouraged with Sheriff Appelhans' devotion to reforms, but she said this can't be just a quick fix.

"What needs to happen now is real community oversight of law enforcement to ensure that those changes stick, because we shouldn't have a change now because we have a new sheriff and then if we have a different sheriff we can't be worried about an entirely different agency," said Provenza. "So I am hopeful, at least particularly here in this county, that we're going to have more accountability and more transparency of law enforcement and I think that Aaron Appelhans is invested in that."

For her part, Provenza will push for legislation that will attempt to keep officers with bad track records from being hired along with other reforms.

"We haven't changed our law enforcement statutes in decades. And I think that while there are some things that work in this state, we're certainly seeing that there are some things that don't, and I'm invested in making sure that our law enforcement serves our communities. And I believe that for the most part that they do. But how do we ensure that we've got a squeaky wheel or a bad actor in the structure…how do we ensure that they don't, in lack of a better term, poison the well?" asked Provenza.

She is also looking at body cam legislation to bring more accountability to law enforcement.

Bob Beck retired from Wyoming Public Media after serving as News Director of Wyoming Public Radio for 34 years. During his time as News Director WPR has won over 100 national, regional and state news awards.
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