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The first Black sheriff in Wyoming takes over an agency that has faced significant controversy

February 20, 2021. Summarized by summa-bot.

Compression ratio: 17.3%. 1 min read.

Albany County Sheriff Aaron Appelhans stands in the county courthouse in Laramie, Wyo. Wednesday, Feb. 3, 2021. Appelhans took office in January as Wyoming???s as the state???s first Black sheriff. Formerly a University of Wyoming Police Department patrol sergeant, Appelhans in January became the top law enforcement officer for a county three times the size of Rhode Island yet home to just 650 African Americans out of 39,000 people. Wyoming's largest city and capital, Cheyenne, got its first Black police chief, James ???Jim??? Byrd, in 1966. (AP Photo/Mead Gruver)

For the first time in its 130-year history, Wyoming has a Black sheriff.

Aaron Appelhans, 39, has taken charge of the Albany County Sheriff's Office, which faces two pending lawsuits and calls for reform in the aftermath of the fatal shooting of Robert "Robbie" Ramirez by a deputy in 2018.

One reason it took so long to appoint a Black sheriff, according to the president of the Wyoming NAACP, Stephen Latham, is the state's small Black population.

The racial disparities in sheriff's offices are a nationwide trend, even in states with large non-white populations, according to a 2020 report by the Reflective Democracy Campaign.

Ramirez's death sparked protests and calls to fire Colling, who is currently still with the department but was moved to a detective role and was taken off patrol, according to Sheriff Appelhans.

The ability to influence real change is one of the main reasons he wanted to become a sheriff, Appelhans said.

The biggest challenges Appelhans faces are changing the perception of the Albany County Sheriff's office and spearheading criminal justice reform within the department, he said.

But conflicts within the department may present issues, according to state Rep. Karlee Provenza, the chair of who chaired the sheriff screening committee and the executive director of Albany County for Proper Policing.

"There were not many people who wanted to put their name and face behind the sheriff's office" because of the lawsuits and the department's reputation, Vogel said.

Sheriff Appelhans said he is already implementing new practices and procedures within the department.

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