An attorney for Wyoming’s Albany County government is arguing that its settlement agreement with a Laramie woman whose son was killed when a deputy sheriff shot him in the back following traffic stop should remain secret.
Debra Hinkel, the mother of the late Robbie Ramirez, launched a wrongful death lawsuit in 2020 against the Albany County sheriff and commission, and against former Albany County Sheriff’s Deputy Derek Colling.
The lawsuit came two years after Colling tased, then shot and killed Ramirez after a traffic stop in Laramie in November 2018.
By June 2022, the parties had entered into a confidential settlement agreement, ending the lawsuit.
Supreme Court Ruling
The county managed to keep the agreement private for more than a year, but on Aug. 8, 2023, the Wyoming Supreme Court ruled in a separate case – Gates v. Memorial Hospital of Converse County – that a settlement agreement in that case that involves public money is a public record under state law.
District courts can, however, determine whether “any sensitive information” should be redacted from such settlements before they’re released to the public, the ruling says.
Now John Bowers, the attorney who represented Albany County in Hinkel’s case, is asking the Albany County District Court to keep the settlement confidential. He referenced the new state Supreme Court ruling, along with the fact that the parties who entered the settlement understood it to be confidential at the time.
“The Albany County Commissioners are concerned that release of the settlement agreement would be viewed as a breach of the confidentiality agreement by the parties and cause Albany County and public funds to be at risk by incurring additional litigation,” wrote Bowers in a Sept. 15 petition to the District Court. In another filing he called the settlement “highly sensitive.”
Bowers asked the court to hear arguments in the matter and determine the county’s “duties.”
The county turned to the court when a Wyofile reporter submitted a public records request following the Gates ruling, asking to view the settlement.
Cowboy State Daily also has submitted a public records request for the settlement agreement.
The Back And Forth
Hinkel claimed in her lawsuit that Colling used excessive force against her son; and the sheriff’s office used inadequate hiring practices in hiring Colling and failed to properly train him.
Colling countered, saying videos of the incident showed he was acting appropriately and his actions were justified under the circumstances.
Hinkel also claimed that the defendants deleted five “crucial” seconds of video footage form Colling’s body camera and deleted audio from his dash camera footage.
Colling resigned from the sheriff’s office in June 2021.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.