A mural in memory of Robbie Ramirez in Laramie. Derek Colling, a then-Albany County sheriff’s deputy, shot and killed Ramirez on Nov. 4, 2018. Ramirez was unarmed and living with mental illness. (Tennessee Watson/WyoFile)

Debra Hinkel, who sued and settled with Albany County after her unarmed son was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy, wants the settlement documents from her lawsuit to be made public, according to her attorney. 

Albany County has sought to block public access to the terms of the settlement — including the cost to taxpayers — since its completion in May 2022. 

Hinkel’s son Robbie Ramirez was killed in 2018 by then-Albany County sheriff’s deputy Derek Colling. Hinkel sued the county, in part, to scrutinize why Albany County hired Colling. While serving with the Las Vegas Police Department, Colling used lethal force twice — both incidents were ruled justified — and was then fired for beating and arresting a bystander who was videoing officers from his own property. 

Albany County denied WyoFile’s initial request for the settlement records on Oct. 2, 2022, citing a confidentiality agreement between the parties, including Hinkel. WyoFile filed a follow-up request a year later on Aug. 22, referencing a recent Wyoming Supreme Court ruling that bolstered public records law. 

In Gates v. Memorial Hospital, the court found that confidentiality agreements do not limit public access to settlement agreements with government entities. But WyoFile’s request in Albany County is putting that opinion to the test. 

The Albany County Courthouse. (Tennessee Watson/WyoFile)

Albany County has made clear in court filings that it does not intend to release documents detailing its settlement, arguing that “public disclosure of the information in the court record would do substantial injury to governmental operations serving the public.” 

Hinkel’s lawyers disagree.

“This action on the part of the County is deeply concerning,” wrote Hinkel’s attorneys, Noah Drew and Alicia Evans with the Spence Law Firm, in a letter to Albany County Attorney Kurt Britzius.

“There is no valid basis to refuse the agreement’s disclosure under Wyoming law, nor do any special circumstances exist to prevent the release,” Drew and Evans wrote. 

“Releasing the settlement agreement aligns with the precise goal of the public records act to promote transparency and disclosure of the government’s activities; not to hide in secrecy,” Hinkel’s attorneys wrote. “The public is owed this kind of transparency.”

The benefit to the public is threefold, according to First Amendment attorney Bruce Moats. 

“Number one is, what’s being paid on our behalf,” Moats said. “I don’t care if it’s insurance. It’s all public funds that’s paid on our behalf.” 

Beyond $62,771 paid for its annual policy and a $5,000 deductible, Albany County’s legal costs and settlement fees in the Hinkel lawsuit were covered by the Local Government Liability Pool. 

Moats added that the amount paid can give some indication of the performance of the government, especially if there are repeat lawsuits for similar incidents. 

And third, “sometimes in a settlement agreement, there’ll be other things other than money where the government agrees to do certain things,” Moats said. Those actions might include policy changes, writing guidance or requiring more training. 

“Public information can be helpful in ways that we can’t perceive now,” Moats said. 

Attorneys for Colling and former Sheriff Dave O’Malley — also named in the lawsuit — were not available for comment by press time.

Tennessee Jane Watson is WyoFile's deputy managing editor. She was a 2020 Nieman Abrams Fellow for Local Investigative Journalism and Wyoming Public Radio's education reporter. She lives in Laramie. Contact...

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  1. The court needs to meet standards required by law. The entire settlement and all agreements need to be in the public record. The County should not have ever requested a non-disclosure agreement. That is against public law and policy.

  2. With regard to the statement “… public disclosure of the information in the court record would do substantial injury to governmental operations serving the public.”: it should only take a hearing by a judge or small panel to evaluate the veracity of this statement, which should easily prove either clearly true or clearly false, and whether denial of making the records public would be in defense of the government’s behavior or in defense of the public interests. Let’s get on with it.

  3. Accountability is the issue here and Albany County has to bear up under the circumstances. The record of their decision needs to be made public in order to prevent such an occurrence in the future. Derek Collin’s was hired after it was clear that he had violated the standards which should have excluded him from any future law enforcement position. And yet Albany County hired him. Why?

  4. Right here in the MOST HONEST STATE, Wyoming, Transparency? Public tax $ fund public lands. Yet the public can not access public land Public $ fund city, local, state and fed coffers. AND the CORRECT information on how this money is spent obviously is thus far not the right of the public to know.
    Is this an accurate observation? By all means let me know.

    1. The article already said that there is a signed non-disclosure agreement. She now wishes to disclose, but the County is trying to protect their error by not having this be in the open. Another WYOFile article disclosed that the previous sheriff was a friend of Colling’s father and also knew Colling personally. The error may be called “nepotism,” when someone overlooks disqualifying indications as a “favor” for a friend.