Wyoming Democrats sue to extend deadline to replace sheriff

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) — A Wyoming county's Democratic Party has filed a lawsuit against its local county commission in order to extend the deadline to replace its longtime retiring county sheriff.

The Albany County Democrats said in the lawsuit filed Monday that the Oct. 1 deadline to replace Sheriff Dave O'Malley, who announced his retirement in August, is too soon to properly vet candidates.

The lawsuit comes amid protests that have taken place in Laramie, the county’s seat, over the 2018 police killing of Robbie Ramirez. He had a history of mental illness and was shot by a sheriff’s deputy.

Under Wyoming law, a new sheriff candidate must be selected within 15 days of an office becoming vacant. With O'Malley's retirement scheduled for Jan. 2, 2021, the party argued that the 15-day countdown should begin then rather than in September.

The vacancy began Sept. 15, when the commission accepted O'Malley's resignation, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent wrote in a response filed in court Tuesday.

The lawsuit amounted to “political maneuvering” to postpone the appointment until after the upcoming election, Trent wrote.

A Democrat, an independent and two Republicans, including an incumbent commissioner, are competing for one of three seats on the county commission in the election Nov. 3.

Ken Chestek, state Democratic committeeman from Albany County and a member of the applicant screening committee, said the party was still continuing with the selection process as if the Oct. 1 deadline is carried out.

He said the party has already selected four candidates for O'Malley but wants more time to select a finalist because of the public scrutiny on the selection process.

O’Malley was sheriff when gay University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard was murdered near in Albany County in 1998. Shepard was lured from a University of Wyoming campus hangout, beaten and lashed to a split-rail fence.

His skull was so badly smashed that doctors could not perform surgery. Police said at the time that robbery was the main motive but that Shepard apparently was chosen in part because he was gay. The suspects received two consecutive life sentences.

The current list of possible candidates to replace O'Malley includes University of Wyoming Police Department Sergeant Aaron Appelhans, Laramie County Assistant District Attorney Baend Buus, former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Yana Ludwig and former Statehouse candidate Alex Simon, a former intern at the Albany County Sheriff’s Office who has criticized the department, the Casper Star-Tribune reported.