A 1999 photo captures both a young Robert Ramirez (back right in backwards hat) and Derek Colling (front in striped shirt). Colling, a Sheriff’s Deputy, shot and killed Ramirez following a traffic stop. (Photo provided by Debbie Hinkel)

The two boys pose a row apart in a 1999 photograph of the Laramie High School Choir at Carnegie Hall.

Robert “Robbie” Ramirez stands in the back row in a black T-shirt and backward ball cap, dressed like the skater he was and always in part would be. Derek Colling dominates the foreground of the photograph, a football player kneeling in a striped polo shirt with his ball cap worn brim-forward. The picture captures no sign of the troubles that would dog each of their lives or the violent way they’d collide 19 years later.

“The memory will live with me for the rest of my life,” Ramirez wrote of their trip to the Big Apple for the Laramie High School News Bureau. If the young writer’s prediction was true, his memory of Carnegie Hall lasted until Nov. 4, 2018.

That was the day Colling, by then an Albany County Sheriff’s Deputy with a checkered law-enforcement career, shot and killed him.

The shooting, which followed a traffic stop, shook this quiet University town, sparking demands for police accountability, raising questions about Colling’s hiring and conduct, and launching a raft of angry social media posts. Letters hurled at law enforcement flowed to the editor at the Laramie Boomerang. Around town, residents formed opinions and entrenched them.

In Colling, Ramirez’s family and friends see an overly aggressive officer with a history of violence who pushed Ramirez into a corner and then killed him. “If he didn’t have a badge it would be considered a murder,” Ramirez’s sister said. “If anybody else shot an unarmed person it would be considered murder.”

Defenders of Colling say he was doing his job as a police officer — a job they say he excelled at. They point to Ramirez’s erratic behavior during the traffic stop and his history of mental illness that resulted at least once in aggression.

“I regret what happened on Nov. 4 with every fiber of my being,” said Sheriff Dave O’Malley, who has been under fire from the public for hiring Colling. “I knew Robbie, I know Derek, I know their families. As for hiring Derek I don’t regret that at all.”

Tom Jubin, a Cheyenne defense attorney representing Colling, said the deputy learned only afterward who he had shot. “[Colling] learned afterwards it was somebody he’d been in high school with and played baseball with,” Jubin said. “Given the circumstances, whether he knew the person or not, he did what he had to do.”

An investigation into the shooting continues. In it officials will chart the final intersection of two lives on an early Sunday afternoon outside Ramirez’s Garfield Street apartment. But the investigation won’t chart the paths those lives took since diverging decades earlier.

This is the story of those disparate and sometimes tortured routes.

Two strivers

As classmates, the two boys traveled in different circles in high school despite overlapping extracurricular activities, friends of each said. Ramirez was lighthearted and at times a class clown, smart but unconcerned about grades, popular and kind.

“He was a goofball,” said Robyn Ramirez, Robbie’s sister who was in the same grade. “He was really playful.”

A photograph in the 1999 Laramie High School Plainsmen yearbook shows Derek Colling going for a tackle his senior year. (Plainsmen)

Colling was more reserved, acquaintances said. “When he laughed it was because he really thought it was funny and when he spoke it was because he had something to say,” said Trent Covington, a friend and classmate.

Colling played linebacker and running back their senior year. A yearbook photo captured him mid-tackle.

Ramirez rooted from the sidelines or the stands, whipping up the crowd with a posse of boys who called themselves “The Poss” and painted letters on their bare chests even on cold Laramie nights.

Both boys showed a zest for life, particularly through athletic pursuits.

Ramirez built a reputation as a crack skateboarder and a mosh-pit rowdy at house shows for a local punk band, the Homeless Wonders. “He was pretty much at every show getting rad,” said Ray Carlisle, a singer in the band and later a founder of the band Teenage Bottlerocket, a contemporary Laramie music success story.

Ramirez threw his whole heart into anything he took on, his sister said. “Why would you even do it if you’re not going to give it 100 percent?” is how she described his attitude.

A photograph in the 1999 Laramie High School Plainsmen shows the “poss,” a group of highschool rowdies who took their shirts off and painted their chests for football games, even in the snow. Robbie Ramirez is in the top right of this photograph. (Plainsmen)

Colling, too, was “a guy who was always like ‘I want to be the best at whatever I do,’” said a lifelong friend who agreed to speak with WyoFile on condition that he not be named. Laramie has grown tense since the shooting and as the investigation proceeds, he said.

Colling was loyal to friends and wanted to help people, the friend said.

If the two boys traveled different paths in high school, following graduation their paths diverged far more sharply.

Ramirez battled mental illness

Ramirez’s family first realized something might be wrong with Ramirez’s mental health shortly after high school. In 1999 or 2000, during a visit to Costa Rica where his older brother Randy was learning Spanish and guiding whitewater rafting trips, Robbie began speaking gibberish.

Then he began to have paranoid delusions, his brother said. “He had a freak-out and thought he was being poisoned by the food we were eating,” Randy said. They had to medicate him to get him on a plane home. He was diagnosed with a form of schizophrenia, Randy said.

There had been earlier signs too, his mother said, but until the Costa Rica trip the extent of the issue wasn’t clear. “Senior year it seemed like there was some depression there,” his mother, Debbie Hinkel said. She attributed it at the time to a breakup with his girlfriend or perhaps the lingering effects of a heavy blow to the head during a hockey game.

Ramirez had a history of head injuries, his mother said.

He took a beer bottle to the skull during a scrap in Casper while enrolled at Casper College. He suffered a concussion while snowboarding at Snowy Range Ski Area, and another while playing hockey. There was a fight outside of a party in Laramie when Ramirez was still a drinker — a tussle he lost.

Hinkel estimates Ramirez may have had more than 15 concussions. He also lost an eye to a hockey puck. He would use a prosthetic for the rest of his life.

Robert “Robbie” Ramirez. Friends and family say he kept on top of his mental illness, but often struggled to stay social because of it. (Photo provided by Debbie Hinkel)

Around 2005, his mother sent him to a holistic healing center. The treatment seemed to help. He worked in the center’s kitchen and earned enough to buy himself a guitar, Hinkel said.

“His instructor thought ‘heavy metal’ … but Robbie bought a classical guitar,” she recalled.

After he returned home, Ramirez lived in an apartment on Garfield Street, an end unit tucked into the back corner of a low building with log walls and a white door. He worked in the Ranger — a bar, motel and liquor store combination and a Laramie institution then owned by Hinkel.

It was easier for Ramirez to work for family, Hinkel said, where he could opt out of work when he was going through a tough spell and no one would ask questions or fire him.

“Colling’s calling”

Colling went to the South Dakota School of Mines, where he majored in interdisciplinary studies. He then moved briefly back to Laramie to run a ski school at the Snowy Range Ski Area, owned then by his family. While working there he applied to become a police officer in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. He was inspired in part by his father, according to a 2012 court deposition. Colling’s father Rick Colling had been a police officer in Nebraska. Rick Colling is now a Wyoming highway patrolman.

Rick Colling declined to be interviewed for this story, citing the ongoing investigation of the Ramirez shooting. Derek Colling’s attorney advised his client not to give an interview before the investigation concludes. Public records, court filings and news accounts, however, document Derek Colling’s career. In an interview, Sheriff O’Malley described an exemplary officer.

It sounds like a pun, O’Malley said, but “law enforcement was Colling’s calling.”

Albany County Sheriff David O’Malley

In Las Vegas, Colling graduated at the top of his police academy class, O’Malley said. Court documents show he ultimately joined the Problem Solving Unit, which focused on more complex policing than that undertaken by normal patrolmen.

Colling was a member of the SWAT team in Las Vegas, as well as later in Laramie’s Albany County, where his high performance on policing metrics continued, O’Malley said. Colling got a top score on his SWAT entrance exam in Wyoming. He won awards in all the categories at the training academy in Wyoming — from shooting and fitness to academics. “This young man came in and blew away the tests,” O’Malley said. “There was nobody even close to him.”

Colling trained outside law enforcement classes as well. A city of Laramie parks and recreation guide lists him as an instructor in Kav Maga — a form of self-defense martial arts developed by the Israeli military. A promotional video on a website for the practice calls it “instinctive reality-based training for the streets. No rules. No rituals. No nonsense. No excuses.”

The friend who asked not to be named attended Colling’s wedding in Las Vegas and met some of his fellow officers. “They really appreciated Derek,” the friend said. “He’s the kind of guy who has your back,” his fellow officers told the friend.

Of the young officer from Wyoming, “there wasn’t a single person who said ‘he’s a cowboy,’” the friend said.

But Colling’s career there would be dogged by violence.

In July, 2006, nine months after joining the force, he was one of five police officers who fired 29 rounds at a domestic-violence suspect. Police said the suspect pulled a gun on them outside a gas station, according to news reports. Officials ruled that shooting as justified.

In 2009 Colling shot and killed a 15-year-old boy with bipolar disorder who was brandishing a knife outside his mother’s apartment. Officials ruled that shooting justified as well.

Then in 2011 he beat and arrested a bystander who attempted to film police officers from his own property.

Video of the latter incident went viral, and led to Colling’s firing from the department later that year.

Handling it

Family and friends recall one violent incident resulting directly from Ramirez’s illness. In a fit of delusion, he punched his uncle, David Bunn, in the face while Bunn slept on a couch. Ramirez believed in the moment that his uncle was a hitman sent to kill his family, Bunn told WyoFile. Law enforcement officers showed up and took Ramirez to the hospital, Bunn said.

But that was early in Ramirez’s illness, Bunn said: “He hadn’t been in those places for years and years.”

Those who know him say Ramirez handled his mental illness as well and as carefully later in life as he could. He meticulously budgeted his money and talked often about staying hydrated, well-fed and safe — his apartment in particular became his safe space. When he felt uncomfortable, he would walk away from family gatherings or social events and return home.

“Robbie was able to maintain,” his mother said. “It wasn’t a lifestyle any of us would want.”

His uncle said he could identify Ramirez’s mental state quickly. “I could go in [to a gathering] and say ‘hey Robbie, what’s up?’” Bunn recalled. “If he said ‘hi’ I’d have a conversation with him and if he scowled at me I’d keep walking.”

Ramirez talked openly about his illness with people in or entering his life, alerting them that at times he may check out. “It wasn’t something he was ashamed of,” said Anna Groose, a friend who knew him for more than a decade.

Music was another refuge for Ramirez. He would play guitar or record Casio Beats on an electronic keyboard. He posted videos to social media of himself playing the guitar.

Robert Ramirez plays the guitar for his young nephew. Ramirez enjoyed interacting with children, friends and family say, and taught kids to skate at a community skate park before his death. (Photo provided by Debbie Hinkel)

Working on his pickup truck was another passion. His white Ford — “Maximum Hostility” was painted across the tailgate — was recognizable around town. “He would talk about it forever,” Robyn said. “He would tinker with it so much that he would break it.”

Once after a crash an insurance company sold his rig to a salvage yard instead of paying to repair the damage. Ramirez bought it back within a week, his mother said.

Ramirez had avoided drugs and alcohol for years, his family and friends say. Law enforcement has not released the result of Ramirez’s postmortem toxicology tests.

Though early in life a partier, mosh-pitter and lighthearted rebel, Ramirez started toeing the line after his diagnosis, sister Robyn said. “He became more conservative,” she said, not politically, “but like a rule-follower.”

Ultimately, he became far more reclusive. It wasn’t an easy transition for the former class darling, Robyn said.

“He tried really hard to continue his normal life, going and partying with people and being social,” she said. “You can imagine anybody when you’re in your early 20s you don’t want to admit you can’t drink, you can’t hang and do those things.”

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Ramirez’s medication lowered his tolerance for alcohol. Drinking brought on bad vibes. “Eventually he admitted to himself that he couldn’t drink,” Robyn said.

He learned to go into the Buckhorn Bar or the Ranger Bar and drink Red Bull energy drinks while those around him drank alcohol.

Though media coverage since the shooting has focused on Colling’s police background as much as Ramirez’s illness, his friend Groose said she is tired of the emphasis on the latter.

“We’re looking at Robbie and that disability he had,” she said, “but now I’m like we should start examining the other person because this shouldn’t have happened and neither should the other things in Las Vegas.”

What happened in Vegas

On the evening of Sept. 29, 2009, Colling and his partner were on patrol. He carried pepper spray, an expandable police baton, a taser, a Glock 21C pistol with laser and flashlight attachments (a personal sidearm, not department-issued) and two extra magazines, according to an interview he gave investigators later that night.

The officers were making vehicle stops when a radio call came in. “A 15 year old, uh, bipolar male subject was threatening his mother with a knife,” Colling told the interviewing officers. Colling and his partner responded to the call at an apartment complex. They were the second and third officers to arrive. A Crisis Intervention Team, trained to confront those in mental health crises, was enroute.

The responding officers found a mother struggling with her son. The boy held a knife. At the sight of the approaching officers, Colling said, the boy spun his mother around, positioned her between them like a shield and put the knife to her throat. The mother later contested that characterization in court, saying the knife was not held against her throat but instead pointed down.

The other officers called for the boy to drop the knife and calm down.

Colling fired a single shot that hit the boy in the head and killed him.

A camera mounted on a police officer’s taser captured the scene moments before Derek Colling shot and killed Tanner Chamberlain. Derek Colling described the way Chamberlain held his mother as a “classic” hostage situation type of hold. (Screenshot of KTNV Las Vegas broadcast of Las Vegas Metropolitan Police footage)

When he fired the boy was holding the knife to her throat, he told investigators. “I felt there was … no other answer to the situation,” a transcript of the interview reads.

The interviewing officers asked Colling how much time passed from when the boy, Tanner Chamberlain, first saw him to the time Colling shot him.

“I would say it’s less than ten seconds,” Colling said. Court documents later put the interval between officers arriving and Chamberlain’s death at less than a minute. During that time, the CIT-trained officer arrived and began trying to talk to Chamberlain. Colling took his shot when the boy looked toward that officer, according to court documents.

Asked if either Chamberlain or his mother said anything, Colling said the boy did not. The mother did.

An excerpt of Derek Colling’s interview with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigators on the day he killed Tanner Chamberlain. Colling maintained that he believes he saved Chamberlain’s mother’s life.

“What’d she say?” the interviewer asked him.

“She was saying, ‘Don’t shoot him. Don’t shoot him. Don’t shoot him.’”

Officials ruled the shooting as justified.

Chamberlain’s mother, Evie Oquendo, sued both Colling and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department for what she and her attorney called the wrongful death of her son. They argued her son had been trying to hide behind his mother, not take her hostage. A friend had called 911 after learning Chamberlain had taken 10 of his mom’s sedatives, they alleged in court filings.

Oquendo’s lawyer, Brent Bryson, said Colling impressed him as a “cocky son of a gun” when Bryson deposed him for the lawsuit. “It was almost like a game to him, his deposition,” Bryson told WyoFile.

“His first mindset is to take the person out,” Bryson said. “He had a clear shot and he took the shot instead of waiting for other officers to de-escalate the situation.”

Colling told investigators that other officers had Tasers out. “I didn’t go to any other weapons,” he said when asked if he had considered less-lethal options.

“I think just because of the time, the time frame and the situation happening so quickly, and the fact that he had a knife, uh, my initial response was to go to the gun,” he said. “Some other officers may have gone to taser, but, ah, that was my initial response was to go to the gun,” the transcript reads.

Colling believed he saved Oquendo’s life, according to his interview.

An excerpt of Derek Colling’s interview with Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigators on the day he killed Tanner Chamberlain in which Colling describes his thinking before taking the shot.

“Based on his actions and how agitated he was,” Colling said, “I thought he was going to kill his mother, that he was going to cut her throat with a knife, and, ah, my other thought … was that he may let his mother go and come after one of the officers… My whole thought process was that I had to stop that chain of events from happening.”

A federal district court in Nevada ruled that Oquendo’s wrongful death and excessive-force claims against Colling could go to trial. But the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco. The circuit court ruled Colling had “reasonable cause” to believe the threat was true and to use deadly force. The ruling sought to protect the discretion of police officers from undue vulnerability to future lawsuits, Oquendo’s attorney said.

Asked if he wanted to add anything at the end of his post-shooting interview, Colling described a “classic hostage situation.”

“I just wanna say real quick it was, it was, ah, the manner that he had her held was like your classic hostage situation … type of hold,” Colling said.

Footage of the incident from cameras on the officer’s Tasers shows Chamberlain, bigger than his mother at 15, holding her in front of him by her arms as he backs away from police. The scene resembled something from an action movie.

But Colling is no hero to Oquendo.

“That totally destroyed my life”

Though Colling was cleared from the Chamberlain shooting, he would lose his job in Las Vegas two years later. Video and audio footage of Colling beating and arresting a videographer who was attempting to film police from his driveway went viral. Colling was fired after an investigation.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Department hired him in 2012, initially as a corrections officer and then moving him to patrol as a sheriff’s deputy.

A five-person panel hired Colling, O’Malley said. It included officials from his office, the Laramie Police Department and the University of Wyoming campus police force. The panel looked at the incidents in Las Vegas and interviewed a number of Colling’s colleagues, O’Malley said.

Las Vegas officials said Colling was terminated after an investigation showed him violating various department policies during the beating and arrest of the videographer. But supporters of Colling there “felt his termination was media- and politically generated,” O’Malley said. “Everyone we talked to said they would work with Derek any day of the week and it was good he would be in law enforcement.”

O’Malley has agreed to a review of his department’s hiring practices since Ramirez’s death. The two shooting deaths Colling had been involved with in Nevada didn’t disqualify him from further law enforcement work, O’Malley said. Las Vegas is a tough city to work in and two shootings is not as rare as critics have portrayed it, he said, particularly if the officer is “very proactive” in crime-stopping as Colling was.

Oquendo learned of Colling’s new position in 2015. She was shocked to hear Colling would be on the streets with a gun again, she told WyoFile.

She called local reporters but none picked up her story, she said. A September, 2015 Laramie Boomerang story does quote her, however, and describes her legal defeat in the Ninth Circuit.

She tried to call Sheriff O’Malley, but he wouldn’t speak to her, Oquendo said. “He backed Derek Colling 100 percent,” she said.

O’Malley did not recall any attempt by Oquendo to contact him, he said.

“I did everything I could,” Oquendo said. She did not want Colling to carry a gun again. “There really is deep concern that he would do this again,” she told a Nevada news outlet.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness, is the nation’s largest grassroots mental health organization according to the group’s website

Doing everything she could included placing a call to the local head of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a group that advocates for the mentally ill. “I wanted people with mental illness [in Laramie] to know what he had done,” she said.

The head of NAMI in Laramie who took Oquendo’s 2015 call was Debbie Hinkel. Debbie too had a son who struggled with mental illness: Robbie Ramirez.

Oquendo did not know of Colling’s third shooting before interviewing with WyoFile for this story. She let out a sharp gasp when told, and a sharper gasp still when told whose son was killed.

“Oh my God,” she said. “Oh my God that poor woman. Oh my God my heart breaks for her right now because I was in the same position.”

The shared phone call three years ago is little solace to either mother now.

“I’m going to pray for that woman because that totally destroyed my life,” Oquendo said.

Fear

Hinkel remembers when her son learned his old high school classmate had returned to Laramie. He found out from news articles that documented Colling’s past. Hinkel and Rameriz were at the Ranger, she said, when he broached the subject.

“He’ll probably shoot me some day,” her son told her, Hinkel said.

Other members of the family also mentioned Ramirez’s fear of Colling, as well as his general fear of the police. None besides Hinkel recalled Ramirez’s prediction — the account came to them secondhand.

But family and friends don’t doubt that Ramirez was aware of his classmate’s past once Colling came back to Laramie. The hiring was high-profile and something Ramirez would have tracked, family members said.

Records show several of Ramirez’s interactions with police — one as recent as seven months before his death — ended without major incident. In Albany County, police reports are public record but police logs that would document a person’s record of interaction with police — their “rap sheet” — are not. WyoFile was only able to request and review reports it was aware existed through newspaper police blotters or learned of in interviews.

Hinkel had alerted police to her son’s illness. Ramirez was in a database intended to flag him as a likely recipient for a Crisis Intervention Team during police interactions.

The system worked in January 2017, when Officer Louis Cirillo of the Laramie Police Department ticketed Ramirez for a hit-and-run accident. Ramirez had struck a Toyota Camry the night before. Cirillo found him walking the street. Ramirez admitted to the accident and claimed to be looking for the owner of the car, according to the police report.

“It should be noted that when I ran RAMIREZ’s information through dispatch he came back as a CIT contact,” Cirillo wrote in his report.

As part of her work with NAMI, Hinkel helped train police how to approach the mentally ill. She gave 40-hour classes to both the Laramie police and Albany County Sheriff’s departments. She hadn’t done the trainings in five years, however, she said. Colling had never been in one of her classes.

An excerpt from a police report documenting Robbie Ramirez’s second to last known interaction with police.

The penultimate interaction between Ramirez and Laramie law enforcement that WyoFile was able to document was on April 20. Hinkel called the police and requested they check on her son, fearing he was off his medicine.

“She was concerned about her son’s welfare as he is Schizophrenic and told her he believed people were out to kill him and there was bombing in Cheyenne,” Laramie Police Department Officer Ocean Spisak wrote in the report. Ramirez let the officers into his apartment. “Ramirez did inform me that he had been hearing explosions to the east and believed bombs had gone off in Cheyenne and was concerned about that,” Spisak wrote.

Ramirez admitted he had not been taking his medication as prescribed and took a pill in front of the officers. He told the officers he didn’t feel suicidal or homicidal and showed them he was supplied with food and water. They left without further incident.

Golden years, rough months

In his younger years, Ramirez was known as a skilled skateboarder who would take big chances. “He was an animal on a skateboard,” said Ray Carlisle, the musician.

In the last years of his life, he returned to the pursuit. Josh Kaffer met Ramirez sometime in 2015. Kaffer was part of a group called Friends of the Laramie Skatepark, which was working to rebuild Laramie’s skating facility.

Kaffer found a helping hand in Ramirez, who was no longer able to hold regular work even with family. The two clicked quickly, Kaffer said.

“Big smile. Easy laugh. This is a solid dude,” Kaffer said of his first impressions.

Ramirez told Kaffer about his mental illness early on, so that he’d understand if Ramirez didn’t show up or suddenly left, he said. But Ramirez showed up.

“He was just like ‘OK here’s my phone number call me whenever you need me,’” Kaffer said. Ramirez put in hours of work on the park each week. A 2017 photo taken by Kaffer shows Ramirez in the bottom of a skating bowl, one hand on a steel-working tool, just before they poured the concrete. He wears dark glasses and a hovering grin.

The two often skated together. It was Ramirez’s escape. “As long as you’re rolling you don’t have to worry about anything else,” Kaffer said.

Ramirez’s pride in the park was evident to those who knew him. “He was playful again and he was smiling and he had that twinkle in his eyes,” Ramirez’s sister said. “He was the best that he had been in years.”

Robert Ramirez stands in the bottom of a construction project that would become a sunken concrete bowl for skaters to do tricks in. A vigil was held for Ramirez at the skatepark following his death. The years skating and building the park were “golden” for Ramirez, his friend Josh Kaffer said. (Josh Kaffer)

Ramirez volunteered to teach his friends’ kids to skate. Ramirez had always enjoyed interacting with and teaching children, Hinkel said. He gave Kaffer’s son a homemade, beaded necklace.

But in the last four months of his life people noticed a change. “He was avoiding me,” Kaffer said. “When I saw him I could see the meds weren’t working… he was talking about things that didn’t exist.”

Ramirez would skate more when he was in a good place mentally. In the last few months, he was showing up less, the musician Carlisle said. The family wondered if his medication was still working, or if he was still taking it.

Ramirez’s birthday was Oct. 16. On that day, Hinkel had arrived at the apartment to pick her son up for lunch with his father, who was in town from Encampment. Ramirez’s apartment was a mess, and Hinkel made some “dumb” comment about it, she said. Ramirez declined to go to lunch.

“I’ll just stay here where I’m safe,” Hinkel said he told her. For over a decade, the apartment had been Ramirez’s refuge.

The last time Hinkel saw her son alive was Oct. 19, she said. She and her mother, Ramirez’s grandmother, visited him at his apartment to deliver toiletries she’d seen he needed. “At least we got a hug and an ‘I love you,’” Hinkel said.

His condition was worrying, but not unlike episodes he had pulled out of before, Ramirez’s family said. He would not have the chance to pull out of this one.

Traffic stop gone way wrong

Ramirez and Colling’s lives reconverged Nov. 4, 2018 in the afternoon of a cold clear day.

Their final encounter was captured by Colling’s patrol car dashboard camera and body camera. Video of the incident was shown to local journalists from television, newspaper and radio in Laramie. Undersheriff Josh Debree walked reporters through the footage. WyoFile was not present at the press conference. Albany County District Attorney Peggy Trent denied a subsequent records request to view the footage, citing concerns about jeopardizing the ongoing investigation.

A television reporter provided WyoFile with a viewing of the full unedited video and audio as presented in the press conference.

The following description of Ramirez’s last hour alive is drawn from that video record as well as police dispatch audio recordings. Colling’s body camera came unplugged during a struggle between the two, law enforcement officials have said. It cuts out before the fatal shots.

Colling begins following Ramirez, who is driving a yellow Ford truck slowly down Grand Avenue at 16-17 miles per hour, half the posted speed limit. The body camera video begins with Colling pulling on a black North Face watch cap. Dispatch radio channels are busy as Colling calls in Ramirez’s registration.

“According to radio logs,” Debree said, “he never got a return on the registration he requested.”

Colling does not hear his old classmate’s name, or get the CIT message Officer Cirillo received in 2017. Ramirez turns off Grand, heading toward his apartment, without using his turn signal. Colling hits the lights. Ramirez pulls to the curb. On the body camera, Colling appears to open the door of the car well before he stops. After briefly looking down the driver’s side of Ramirez’s car, Colling approaches the vehicle from the passenger side.

Colling taps on the front passenger window. “Roll your window down sir,” he asks Ramirez repeatedly. Ramirez does not comply and yells from inside, asking why he is being pulled over. Colling asks for backup on his radio.

Ramirez pulls away from the standing deputy and drives across the street. He stops in front of his apartment. Colling runs back to his Sheriff’s Department SUV, making calls on his radio. Ramirez drives less than a block in what officials later called a pursuit.

Ramirez’s family and police officials have diverging views of the events. To Debree, Ramirez’s slow driving drew Colling’s attention because it could have indicated a medical emergency or intoxicated driver. To the family, Ramirez was driving slowly because he was intimidated by the Sheriff’s car behind him and was afraid of being pulled over. When Ramirez didn’t roll the window down, Debree said that alerted Colling that this wasn’t just a traffic stop. The family said Ramirez would have been scared when he saw who was at his passenger’s window.

To the police, Ramirez’s move across the street and into his driveway was “technically a pursuit that’s ending in a high-risk stop,” Debree said. To Ramirez’s family, he was trying to get home — to his apartment, his safe zone.

“I can guarantee when he saw who pulled him over Robbie was terrified,” Bunn, the uncle, said. “He wanted to get there [to the apartment]. He wanted to go hide in his fucking cave.”

Jubin argued what happened next was the result of Colling doing what he’d been trained to do. “If an officer is going to do his job he can’t very well just let the guy run off,” Jubin said. “He can’t very well let the guy go into his house.”

Colling blocks Ramirez’s yellow truck in with his patrol car. Ramirez’s beloved white Ford is parked and visible in the video from Colling’s dash camera. Ramirez gets out of his truck with both hands in front of him, a winter hat pulled down nearly over his eyes, one good and one glass. He appears unarmed. He is yelling at Colling.

“You can hear some threatening statements being made,” Debree said. The yelling was largely unintelligible to this reporter after several replays of that section of video. The word arrest is audible in Ramirez’s yelling. What is clear is that Colling repeatedly yells for Ramirez to put his hands up as they advance toward one another.

Ramirez does not put his hands up. Colling comes out of his car with a Taser visible in his right hand. He is left-handed.

Officials have not said when his gun came out of his holster. In the body-camera footage it appears his left hand, which later in the footage can be seen holding his gun, is up from the start of the confrontation.

“He did nothing to deescalate the situation,” Hinkel said. “Zero.”

Ramirez comes around the side of his truck. Colling fires his taser. Ramirez waves his arms, apparently trying to remove the taser wires.

The taser connection appeared to fail, Debree said.

Ramirez comes toward Colling, flailing his arms. The fight moves out of sight of the dashboard camera.

This is the point where Colling’s body camera comes unplugged, Debree said.

According to Jubin, Ramirez knocked the taser from Colling’s hand while off camera and clenched a key in his hand as a weapon. Colling kicked at Ramirez, Jubin said, but it didn’t slow him down. The kick is not visible in the video.

The two men return to the dash-cam’s field of view. Colling is backing away from Ramirez, gun leveled at him. As they cross in front of the Sheriff car’s, Ramirez falls to the ground. With the body camera unplugged, there is no audio from the final seconds — no sound of the gunshots. Colling’s aim tracks Ramirez as he falls forward to the ground. Colling is backing away as Ramirez falls.

One shot struck the log wall of the apartment building. Today, there is a square chunk of wood cut out where the bullet hole was removed.

Two shots hit Ramirez, Hinkel said. She claims they entered through his back below his right shoulder.

Jubin declined to confirm whether Ramirez was shot in the back. In the heat of the moment, “sometimes officers empty their entire gun and don’t even know they’ve done it,” he said. “As far as ‘what hits where,’ sometimes it’s really a function of that … unless somebody is running down the street and gets shot in the back. That’s quite different than what happened here.”

The autopsy report has not yet been released.

At the video’s end, Ramirez lies on the ground out of the camera’s view. The sheriff’s deputy kneels over him. Colling raises his head into view numerous times, looking perhaps for his backup, or an ambulance.

Ramirez lay shot within a yard or two of the door of his apartment, his safe place. He lay within yards of his broken white pickup truck “Maximum Hostility.”

 

Correction: WyoFile originally reported a key which Derek Colling’s attorney claimed Robert Ramirez held in his hand as a weapon was not visible in the video. A reader provided a screenshot that showed what appears to be a key visible in Ramirez’s right hand. WyoFile independently replicated the reader’s screenshot and updated the story accordingly. –Ed.  

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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14 Comments

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  1. I’ve watched all available video related to this guy, and would have to say, the beating of the journalist wannabe should be enough to keep this guy from carrying a gun. Just look at the government’s numbers on police shootings. About 5% of officers ever discharge their weapon. Of those, about 5% have a fatal result. This guy is either 1/100,000,000 unlucky, (statistical reality, not hyperbole) or a danger to the community. Beating the reporter tells me the latter is by far the most likely option. Once is bad luck. Twice is a coincidence. 3 times means it’s time to investigate a possible serial killer in uniform. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt to law enforcement, but at some point, you have to restore reasonable skepticism.

  2. This is a frightening and heartbreaking story. This bad cop should have been permanently banned from police work to save lives after his alarming actions in Las Vegas.. Great reporting and compelling writing. One of WyoFile’s best pieces yet.

  3. When Collings was hired and I was having my morning coffee, reading about his track record as a police officer in the Boomerang, I remember saying, this man is going to kill someone in our town. And Dave O’Malley has no regrets about hiring him? What did he think the outcome would be? As my friend Roger would have said, this ain’t rocket surgery.

  4. This story breaks my heart. I knew Robbie from high school – we hung out with many of the same people. I wouldn’t go so far as to call us friends but I knew him well enough and this article accurately describes him. To hear of his murder is terrible news.

    On a side note, this article has a great between the lines story running within it that described the relationship many of us – young males who grew up in Laramie – have with law enforcement.

    I was pulled over approx 20 times between 1998 and 2000 in Laramie – I was never issued a ticket. The Laramie Police, Albany County Sheriff’s office, WYO Highway Patrol, and UW Police all patrol Laramie’s streets and tend to be overly aggressive in pursuing traffic violations as a pretext to stop and search your vehicle. I was pulled over for violations of changing lanes to abruptly (with using my indicator), entering the incorrect lane on a left turn, entering the incorrect lane from a right turn, and my personal favorite not turning on my indicator 100 yards prior to turning (I had turned it on too soon). So when I read that Robbie was going well under the speed limit on Grand and then turned without using a turn signal as the reason for being pulled over – I know that feeling all too well.

    I have been in that driver’s seat and been interrogated through my window for a minor (occasionally contrived) infraction in the hopes of finding a reason to pull me out – happened 4 times BTW – to search my car. I literally changed everything about myself when I would drive in Laramie. Take off the baseball hat while behind the wheel. Know every traffic law like the back of my hand. Know which questions to ask when you are pulled over. Don’t drive on Grand or 3rd Ave after 10pm. Don’t drive on 15th to cut trough campus – the speed zones change and they sit on Garfield waiting for you. It was an act of survival and I knew that if I got mouthy, I was getting fucked up – simple as that.

    So if you ask me if I ever saw this coming – yes. Maybe not the people but definitely the result.

    1. Mr, Mueller, thank you for sharing your really important perspective. From families to law enforcement administrators, we should all be having conversations about what you describe — the issues of policing, young men, and the legal system — in order to prevent future tragedies.

  5. I am truly saddened by this Story. I knew Robbie we were teammates on a baseball team when we where in 8th grade. He was a short stop and I 3rd base. I remember him as a fun loving kid who enjoyed baseball and was a kick ass skater. We were never close friends but he was a kid that others gravitated to. I have not seen Robbie for at least 20 years, but I can say the world will be a lesser place with out him no matter what becomes of this case. I would like to remind Mr. Jones of one thing. This officer was trained and apparently an instructor in Krav Maga, so why the gun? Knowing Robbie’s family Robbie probably did not grow into a large man so why go to the gun with a “suspect” with a “house key” for a weapon especially if there was a struggle as indicated in the article? The self defense (hand to hand) should have kicked in at that point. Also I would be interested to know the history of these two from high school.. I do have to say it is very interesting that you would hire an officer who was terminated for excessive force especial in this day and age, If nothing else it is bad optics for the sheriffs office But then again maybe the sheriff feels a bit untouchable after his high profile case from yesteryear. Now to Mr. Jones’s point it does appear that the officer tired non lethal force first, A struggle short struggle with the suspect ensues which makes the gun even more curious, you have hands on the suspect and don’t use your take down training or the martial art you know to subdue the suspect? Seems very peculiar to me.

  6. Two previous killings. And he beat a person attempting to film police actions. And ACSD hired him anyway.

  7. Regardless of the mostly irrelevant historical background, it seems that an officer who was doing his job, following procedures, showing restraint was confronting a fast developing situation with a subject not responding in a rational manner. After attempting to use non-lethal means to stop the aggressive, irrational behavior of the subject, the officer, while under attack and attempting to retreat resorted to using lethal force to stop the attack. Everything else about this article reads like a made for TV movie to the predictable end. The truth is, there is very little predictable is a sudden violent encounter. The officer feared bodily harm or even loss of his life and acted accordingly. A tragic ending but not one the officer initiated.

    1. Irrational behavior should not result in an improptu death sentence, especially with an un-armed person. Police are there to enforce the law, not to hand out death. Excellent reporting and writing.

    2. I agree with you. Everyone needs to do the police simulator I saw some officers do with some leaders from Black Lives Matter. Split second decisions need to be made in the middle of high stress situations. Running through those simulators help civilians understand a little more about the stress involved. Yes, police officers are trained but they are human and still make mistakes. I wouldn’t be in their shoes for anything. Their job is very important and we take them too much for granted. I wouldn’t like to live in a place where they aren’t there to uphold the law. We need to think about what it’s like to be in their shoes and give them a break. I do understand that they need to be held accountable but Mental Illness really clouds the issue. People with mental illness are capable of things they would never think of doing when they aren’t in the middle of an episode or if they didn’t have the illness. Tragedies happen that no one wants. It’s an unavoidable situation.

  8. The victim was shot while on the ground. We have deputized officers with the authority to commit murder which they do in every community across the country with more and more regularity. Most police academies offer no training in de-escalation. Police officers are performing exacly the duty they were trained for and then everyone is surpised by the results.

  9. The title of this article is a gross overstatement. While there is wide concern and even disagreement, I can assure you that our community is not “torn asunder.” From Collins Dictionary, “If something tears or is torn asunder, it is violently separated into two or more parts or pieces.” That is not what has happened to our community. Words matter, let’s use them correctly.