In investigating the Erik Scott case, I came across the exploits of another Las Vegas Metro officer: Derek Colling. On March 20, 2011, Colling savagely beat, and arrested, Mitchell Crooks for the crime of standing in his own driveway and videotaping Crooks and other officers who happened to be in Crook’s neighborhood. Colling and the other officers were engaged in routine duties, but Colling, apparently feeling Crooks was acting in Contempt of Cop, brutalized him. Multiple false charges against Crooks were quickly dropped and Colling was fired some eight months later. Crooks won a $100,000 settlement from Metro.
What was significant about this case was that at the time, Colling had only been working for Metro about five years, and he had already killed two citizens. The Erik Scott case archive may be found here, and my most recent article on License To Kill: The Murder Of Erik Scott, my book on that case, is here.
I first wrote about the Colling/Crooks case in November of 2011:
The beating and false arrest of Mitchell Crooks took place on March 20, 2011. As I mentioned in earlier updates, Metro seems to take an unbelievably long time to deal with disciplinary issues. It is nearly five months after the incident and the matter is not resolved? In professional Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), such things are commonly handled in days or weeks at most.
The process would normally work like this: When reading reports at the end of a shift, a supervisor (usually a Sgt.) would recognize a problem and begin an informal investigation. If warranted, he would begin a formal investigation, and this would normally be started within a day or two. In smaller agencies without an internal affairs unit, the shift supervisors (Sgt/Lt.) would normally complete the investigation, identify which specific policies/rules had been violated, and recommend appropriate punishment. Their report on the incident and recommendations would normally be forwarded to their division commander (usually a Capt. or higher) and then to the Chief who would review and alter, or sign off on, the recommendations of the shift supervisors and division commander. For smaller, more routine violations of policy, this could be completed within just a few days. For more serious incidents which could result in an officer’s firing, a few weeks might be required, or a month at the outside.
It’s important to keep this in mind for several reasons. Professional agencies can’t afford to keep officers in limbo for any length of time. They don’t have the resources and it’s terribly damaging to morale, not only for the officer(s) involved, but for every officer to realize that they might be hanging over the precipice for months, perhaps years, because higher ranking officers can’t make decisions or are testing the political winds. It’s also terrible public relations. The public has to wonder why things are taking so long. In the real world of work, it doesn’t take months, even years, to figure out if someone has done something wrong, or realizing that they have, to assign appropriate and rational discipline. Even if the public doesn’t understand the workings of police agencies, they know that when things take so long, something is fishy. This is a state of affairs that no professional LEA welcomes for any reason.
Why has this matter taken so long? It would not be unreasonable to believe that Metro is so unprofessional, so corrupt that they are simply unable to do in months what other LEAs routinely accomplish in days or weeks. One might also be tempted to believe that something underhanded is afoot, or that Metro is trying to run out the clock and allow this case to go down the Vegas/Metro memory hole like so many others.
This article also speaks to normal police hiring procedures.
In this December, 2011 article I explained why Colling’s brutal attack on Crooks was “contempt of cop,” which occurs when a badge-heavy cop feels no need to restrain himself. Such officers think themselves immune from legal consequences for grossly unethical and illegal acts. I also explained, in detail, why Colling’s actions are exactly like those of the officers–particularly ex-Metro cop William Mosher–that murdered Erik Scott. Officers like Colling and Mosher still comprise a large portion of the Metro force.
In this December, 2011 article, I explained the process–it normally takes no more than a month, and often, much less time–of investigating improper use of force incidents involving officers. The Metro “investigation” took about eight months to determine Colling should be fired.
One would think that an officer like Colling, fired from an agency that routinely protects murderers, constructing elaborate cover-ups as a matter of daily business, would never be able to work in law enforcement again. One would be wrong, as The Laramie [Wyoming] Boomerang reports:
Derek Colling, a police officer with a checkered past, has been confirmed as having killed Robbie Ramirez of Laramie. The 39-year-old was fatally shot Sunday on Garfield Street, between 21st and 22nd streets.
Colling, a corporal with the Albany County Sheriff’s Office, also fatally shot a teenager in 2009 and then was later fired from Las Vegas’s police department in 2011 after beating a man who was filming police.
Colling was on-duty at the time he killed Ramirez during a traffic stop. He has since been placed on administrative leave.
Please keep in mind, gentle readers, I don’t know the facts of Colling’s shooting of Ramirez. I’m relying, at this point, only on media accounts, but what little is known is disturbing. it also appears there may be body camera footage, but no one should be terribly enthusiastic about that, even if it is true. Such footage can be helpful, but is not always definitive.
When Colling’s past controversies became public knowledge in Laramie four years ago, Albany County Sheriff David O’Malley faced scrutiny for having hired the man. At the time, O’Malley strongly defended the hiring and called Colling ‘the best man for the job.”
In Wyoming, incidents of this kind are investigated by the State Police, the Division of Criminal Investigation, an agency independent from local agencies. Why might Sheriff O’Malley think Colling a model officer?
Colling was born and raised in Laramie and his father is a Wyoming Highway Patrol trooper.
Wyoming, like many places, still suffers from “good-old-boyism.” Most agencies would not think of hiring someone like Colling. Apparently local connections overrode more professional concerns.
Ramirez, 39, had a variant of schizophrenia and his family told the Laramie Boomerang that Colling knew Ramirez and was aware of his mental health issues.
While officials have not explained the circumstances of Ramirez’s death, his family said he was being pulled over for a traffic violation when he tried to flee.
‘(Robbie) was so paranoid about police that he took off and ran to his apartment where he felt safe,’ said Ramirez’s grandmother, Doris Bunn-Manfull.
“I want David O’Malley to resign,’ she [Bunn-Manfull] said. ‘He was told not to hire (Colling) and did it anyways.’ [skip]
Despite the firing, O’Malley said Colling came highly recommended from Las Vegas police peers and supervisors.
‘I wasn’t there, I didn’t investigate him, but I know that, in looking at the backgrounds of people that I talked to, everyone stood behind (Colling) but the top-end,’ O’Malley said in 2014.
O’Malley obviously didn’t exercise due diligence in investigating Colling. He hired Colling in 2013. By then, my investigation of Metro had produced considerable information, readily available on the Internet, including multiple articles regarding Colling. Metro’s reputation for lying, cover-ups and supporting serial killing cops regardless of the facts was common national knowledge. Even a cursory examination of Colling and Metro would reveal that firing any officer—even for an unjustified killing—was—and remains–rare. The few officers fired in the last three decades for unjustified killings have never been prosecuted, as Colling was not prosecuted for his brutal beating and false arrest of Crooks, despite the $100,000 dollar payout.
In 2006, he [colling] and four other officers shot and killed Shawn Jacob Collins, 43, after the man pulled a gun at a gas station, according to an article in the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
In 2009, Colling shot and killed Tanner Chamberlain, a mentally ill 15-year-old who was holding a knife to his mother’s throat, according to the Review-Journal article.
Keep in mind this [Metro] is the agency that cleared an officer who hunted down a man, and without witnesses, cut his throat from ear to ear before shooting him in the head. Any officer doing this in a professional agency would be lucky indeed to merely be fired. This is also the agency that murdered Erik Scott and conducted a massive, but badly flawed, cover-up, as documented in License To Kill.
He was terminated — I knew that when I hired him,’ O’Malley said. ‘But … I really take more credence in the guys that he worked with and his supervisors’ opinions than I do some guy with four stars on his shoulder sitting in his office in some large metropolitan. I’m really glad that I gave him a chance. We discussed it. It wasn’t a decision that we made lightly.’
The Sheriff’s Office then did an extensive background check, speaking with 20-30 members of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. Everyone spoke highly of Colling, O’Malley said.
Honest Metro officers—there are some–have confirmed that most of the officers of Metro are hopelessly corrupt. One wonders if O’Malley is still “really glad” he hired Colling?
Colling graduated from the Wyoming Law Enforcement Academy in March 2013 first in his class. He was also awarded Top Shooter, Top Physical Fitness, Top Academic and Top Graduate — the first person to sweep all categories at the academy.
Full disclosure: I worked as a police officer in Wyoming many years ago. I was the top shot in my academy class, but back then, they didn’t have physical training, and if memory serves, didn’t issue top academic awards. In fact, back then, the academy used state fair facilities; they didn’t have their own dedicated facility until years later.
Analysis: It’s possible Colling’s first Metro shoot was justified, even if it was not strictly necessary. But even if one allows that his other shoot was truly justified—and there is substantial evidence it was not–two shootings in only five years, combined with his termination for beating Crooks, should make him unemployable in law enforcement.
The overwhelming majority of police officers complete their careers without ever firing their gun, let along killing anyone, on duty. Even in large agencies, it is not common to find officers that have killed people. Finding officers with multiple kills is rare indeed. This is not true for Metro, which has an extraordinary number of multiple shooters, which was true in the Erik Scott case was well.
One might think Colling merely unlucky; he was in the wrong places at the wrong times and was forced to legitimately kill. But then we have the Crooks case, where Colling, without any provocation or justification, brutally beat Crooks, lodged multiple false charges against him and lied in his official reports of the incident. To any professional police executive—sheriffs included—this, taken in concert with Colling’s multiple killings, would be convincing. It should tell them there is something wrong with Colling, something deadly. To professionals, Colling should appear to be a man unable to control his violent impulses, impulses not restrained, but unleashed by the authority of the badge. At the very least, O’Malley should have seen that Colling, or anyone like him, might be looking for excuses to brutalize people, even kill them, rather than looking for ways to avoid such inexcusable brutality.
In professional agencies, any officer is only as good—and useful—as his reputation for integrity. Any officer brutally beating a citizen without cause, and lying about it, has made himself useless. No one in the justice system, from that moment on, can believe anything he says. The lies are, in a sense, worse than the brutality.
Another enormous red flag, which was raised by the killing of Ramirez, is Colling’s killing of two mentally ill people. Was his traffic stop of Ramirez mere chance, or was he, knowing of Ramirez’s mental illness, looking for, even manufacturing, an opportunity? Any professional investigation would have to answer that question, and many others.
Professional police executives should have nothing to do with Colling. But by his own admission, O’Malley called “20-30” Metro cops. This too is extraordinary. As I noted, given his Metro performance, most agencies would never have considered Colling. Background investigations normally do not involve anything approaching 20 contacts. It seems O’Malley really, really wanted to hire Colling, and did everything he could to find excuses to make it happen.
But what about Collings’ academy performance? In Wyoming, officers are first hired, and then must complete the state’s basic academy in Douglas within a set period. Colling would have been hired first, and sent to the Academy later. While Colling did well at the Academy, this would be expected as he was already a trained and experienced officer. There are reasons it’s called a “basic” academy. Good theoretical performance does not, in any case, override psychological unfitness, as even Sheriff O’Malley might now be realizing.
How Sheriff O’Malley’s judgment affects his suitability for his office is, of course, a political consideration. However, he may very well have engaged in negligent hiring and retention, and the citizens of the County may very well be paying a great deal for that in the near future.
Were I Ramirez’s family, I’d be contacting a good lawyer, such as Gerry Spence, who is quite familiar with these issues. Even a successful lawsuit will be of little consolation to them, but a substantial payout might encourage police executives to be a bit more cautious in their hiring decisions.
I’ll continue to report on this case as developments warrant.