LARAMIE — In response to last week’s public outcry over the November death of Robbie Ramirez, Albany County commissioners are expressing a growing desire to publicly discuss a range of policing reforms called for by ACoPP — Albany County for Proper Policing — the advocacy group formed in the wake of Ramirez’s death.
On Tuesday, the commissioners directed Clerk Jackie Gonzales to request representatives of their liability insurance provider, the Local Government Liability Pool, attend the Commission’s next meeting and explain their position that county officials should not publicly discuss Ramirez’s death nor other concerns about policing that have arisen from the incident.
“We’ve really been hobbled,” Commission Chair Terri Jones said. “They need to come over here and talk to us in an open meeting so everybody can hear what they have to say.”
As county officials prepared for a potential lawsuit from Ramirez’s family, the Local Government Liability Pool has urged commissioners not to discuss the issue.
Both Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent and the commissioners expressed frustration at that directive, especially after several constituents urged the commissioners last week to end their silence. The liability insurer can drop the county for “failure to cooperate in defense of a claim or lawsuit” and has threatened to do so if county officials discuss the case and other policing issues only tangentially related to Ramirez’s death.
“As a commissioner, I can’t expose the taxpayers of Albany County to millions of dollars worth of liability, but we need to have an open government, and right now, we can’t have an open government,” Commissioner Heber Richardson said Tuesday. “I have to make a choice between an open government and millions of dollars of liability, and I think that’s a false choice.”
After last week’s public comment, Trent met with Gonzales and Jones to discuss ways the county board could address some of ACoPP’s proposals.
Some of the proposed actions — like firing sheriff’s deputy Derek Colling — are outside the power of the Commission, Trent said.
However, she did say commissioners could address some of ACoPP’s suggestions by forming an ad hoc committee, consisting of community members and elected officials, to discuss three issues raised by last week’s public comment:
Developing protocols on how officer-involved shootings should be handled by the county
How mental health is being addressed in police investigations, including traffic stops
Exploring ways a citizen committee or the county’s human resources department could be involved in hiring decisions made by the sheriff. Richardson said any possibility of discussing those subjects only highlights the need to re-negotiate the stance taken by the Local Government Liability Pool.
By Daniel Bendtsen
Laramie Boomerang Via Wyoming News Exchange