By Greg Johnson, Cowboy State Daily
A Laramie Police Department official says a state lawmaker’s claim the LPD is playing down the revelation that one of its officers has been identified as a member of the far-right militia group Oath Keepers is inaccurate and irresponsible.
Lt. Ryan Thompson told Cowboy State Daily that the LPD was notified in February by the Anti-Defamation League that the organization has identified one of its officers as one of three in Wyoming listed in a database of about 38,000 Oath Keepers members.
“We were notified by the ADL and immediately launched an internal investigation,” he said.
The probe found that while the officer had sent the Oath Keepers some money “in 2013 or 2014,” he had no correspondence with the group after that and was unaware it had listed him a lifetime member.
“Our officer, he said, ‘I signed up for it … they mailed me a bumper sticker and that was the extent of my involvement,’” Thompson said. “He completely forgot about it and was very shocked and surprised he was on that list.”
He said the officer initially thought he was supporting a group that promoted support of the U.S. Constitution, not being militant, he said.
State Rep. Karlee Provenza, D-Laramie, doesn’t buy the LPD’s response and maintains a push for more transparent public oversight of the department and law enforcement in Albany County.
“When we brought the concern of needing and oversight board, we were continually told we don’t need any because (the department does) such a great job,” she says in a Wednesday tweet. “Then why do we have a member of the force who is a lifetime member of the Oath Keepers?”
Provenza also is director for the nonprofit Albany County for Proper Policing, which has been advocating for local police oversight since the 2018 death of Laramie resident Robbie Ramirez, who was shot and killed during a traffic stop by Albany County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Derek Colling, who has since resigned.
“It is unfortunate to see that LPD has chosen to delegitimize this issue by inaccurately stating that (the officer) joined the Oath Keepers before they were identified as an extremist organization,” ACOPP says in a Wednesday Facebook post.
In fact, “the Oath Keepers have been an extremist group since their founding and began to deploy more aggressive tactics starting in 2014,” the post continues. “The community has been reassured that officers employed at LPD do not need oversight, but this situation has determined that there’s more going on than the public is aware of. The Albany County Sheriff’s Office benefited from that same lack of transparency.”
Calls and messages from Cowboy State Daily to Provenza and ACOPP to elaborate on their concerns were not responded to.
No Smoking Gun Here
While it’s true Oath Keepers is an extremist right-wing group that has become more known for its involvement in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack at the U.S. Capitol, the LPD officer on its list does not represent those values, nor does the LPD, Lt. Thompson said.
“We’re not trying to delegitimize anything,” he said. “That’s why we put out a press release.”
He also said the Laramie Police Department has been under suspicion since the Ramirez shooting even though that didn’t involve an LPD officer.
“That was our struggle with everything happening with Derek Colling,” Thompson said. “Derek Colling never worked for the Laramie Police Department. They’re going to take it out on us (anyway). It’s not enjoyable and nobody wants that, but it is what it is.
“As far as citizen oversight goes, ACOPP can think what they think.”
He also said the Oath Keepers “deserve every bit of notoriety and negative attention they get” for their involvement in the Jan. 6 attack.
“Nobody wants a racist cop running around, that’s not good for anyone, nor is trying to overthrow the government,” Thompson said.
Along with the LPD, the Anti-Defamation League’s list includes a member of the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office and the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy.
The Sweetwater Sheriff’s Office says it hasn’t been able to verify if one of its deputies is on the list or has ever been employed there.
Because the department doesn’t have access to an unencrypted version of the list of alleged members, the sheriff’s office has “no idea as to the identity of the deputy alleged of membership with the Oath Keepers, nor whether he or she is still currently employed with us,” says Deputy Jason Mower in an email to Cowboy State Daily.
He said the policy of the department is that “our deputies are allowed to participate in political groups on their own time, as private citizens, subject to certain limitations on their speech and expression as public servants and representatives of this agency.”
Mower also said that contrary to assertions by the Anti-Defamation League that it had notified the law enforcement agencies about their members being on the list, the Sweetwater County Sheriff’s Office “never received any such communication from their organization.”
He also said that, “A deputy’s private, individual involvement in any political group or activity cannot infringe on his or her ability to enforce the law fairly, but as long as you’re not identifying yourself as a law enforcement officer and cannot reasonably be perceived as officially representing our agency during those activities, then our deputies are free to exercise their constitutional rights just like everyone as else as free citizens of this country.”
The Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy referred questions about the Oath Keepers list to the state Attorney General’s office, which did not respond to Cowboy State Daily before this story was posted.