EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A viral controversy in El Paso County is quickly gaining attention nationwide. Black ranchers are claiming they’ve been “terrorized” by their white neighbors and others in the predominately white neighborhood.
The allegations involve trespassing, vandalism, racial slurs, brandishing weapons and animal cruelty. Their story took another twist Monday morning when the rancher, Courtney Mallery, was arrested and held in jail.
Starting a new life to find harassment
Courtney and his wife, Nicole, were displaced by Hurricane Harvey and moved to El Paso County to start a new life. Their American dream turned into a nightmare after experiencing harassment and more. The couple shared that things have significantly escalated in recent weeks as they’ve become more vocal online.
FOX31 talked with Courtney three weeks ago, before his arrest, and he shared that he felt defeated and feared for his life in El Paso County because of the ongoing harassment.
On Monday morning, video surfaced online that showed Courtney’s arrest. Shortly before being placed in handcuffs, he recorded a video saying, “I’m being arrested. Pray for me, world.” Nicole was taking the video as her husband was being arrested and could be heard yelling for support and asking the public to call the sheriff’s office. She could also be heard saying, “This is farming while Black in America.”
“We don’t want to become a hashtag,” Nicole told FOX31.
Nicole, a Marine, and her husband purchased Freedom Acres Ranch in late 2020.
“I believe that it’s being done because we are African American. We own, I guess if we were in the city, you could say the block,” Nicole explained. “We own 1,000 acres of land, which everyone wanted this piece of land, and I believe they’re trying to steal our land from us and think we don’t deserve it.”
Animals killed, trespassing, vandalism
The couple said they’ve faced repeated acts of “domestic terrorism” by white residents on their own property. They shared that their dogs have been poisoned and numerous farm animals have been slaughtered and gutted. They said residents have been trespassing on their land, have broken their fence and run over their fence posts, burnt their Black Lives Matter flags, spraypainted racial slurs on their land and even waved guns at them.
Nicole provided home surveillance video to FOX31 that showed a cow running on a dirt road and a white car driving on their property. Then you hear her yell, “Don’t shoot, I’m feeding my cows, don’t shoot.”
The couple also provided photos that show unknown vehicles blocking their property and parking on their land.
“They’ve talked about lynching us, bringing a public hanging, fire. They wanted to lock us in and set us ablaze,” Nicole said. “I am a United States Marine who has fought for this country. I fought for these same people who are terrorizing me, and at this moment right now, I do not have any trust in El Paso County Sheriff’s Office.”
Nicole also provided what she said are screenshots of now-deleted posts in a community Facebook page that show discussions between residents inquiring about restrictions on pitchforks and fire sticks, defending rights and the ranchers’ Black Lives Matter flags. She said she and her husband have called the Sheriff’s Office countless times over the last year and have gotten no action or thorough investigations of their claims.
“It is in fact El Paso County Sheriff’s Office that is the main reason that we do not feel safe on our property,” Nicole said.
El Paso County Sheriff’s Office responds
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office released a statement about the allegations, stating they’ve investigated 19 different complaints and have responded to over 170 calls for service at Freedom Acres. In the statement, the office ”vehemently denies these allegations.”
“Sheriff Joseph Roybal and the nearly 1,000 dedicated sworn and professional staff of the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office remain committed to fostering safety for our community and our neighbors while ensuring Constitutional and civil rights are upheld regardless race, color, national origin or any other legally protected characteristic. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office takes all allegations of crime and civil rights violations seriously.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has become aware of an online article alleging racial discrimination on the part of our Office and some of its employees. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office vehemently denies these allegations.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office feels the need to comment further because the article’s author did not seek comment from the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office before publishing it and the article has garnered attention from within and outside of our community at a time when relationships between some law enforcement agencies and the communities which they serve are strained.
Within the last two years and through the end of January 2023, the El Paso County Sheriff’s has investigated 19 different complaints filed by and/or involving the individuals identified in the article against members of the Sheriff’s Office. Each of these complaints were individually and thoroughly investigated. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has also responded to over 170 calls for service that involve the individuals identified in the article (accurate as of February 2, 2023).”El Paso County Sheriff’s Office
NAACP pushes for action
With the arrest of both Courtney and Nicole on Monday, a coalition pushing for social justice and the couple’s safety has quickly formed, including a fundraiser and involvement by the state and local chapters of the NAACP.
“That’s ridiculous,” said Rashad Younger, State Conference Membership Chair for the NAACP. “At the end of the day, law enforcement should show up for everyone. This draws questions. What are law enforcement doing in regards to the police reports? Are they actually filing those police reports or is their information being withheld? Now, all of a sudden they’re sitting behind a jail cell. This draws questions.”
Muriel Williams-Thompson, president of Denver National Association of Real Estate Brokers, drove from Denver to Colorado Springs to offer her support.
“Our mere existence depends on making sure that all homeowners and property owners can exist peacefully,” Williams-Thompson said. “If these allegations are correct, this is a direct violation of the Fair Housing Act.”
Representatives from Sens. John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse and others were involved in discussions on how to help the Mallery family. The constant meetings and organization were spearheaded by Doctor Vern L. Howard, chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission.
“Thinking about where we are today with race relations in this nation and things that are going on here, a lot of red flags went up,” Howard said. “We’re watching, the world is watching. Get it right.”
Courtney was arrested on Monday and charged with stalking, petty theft and tampering with a utility meter. His wife was arrested on the same crimes. The couple received a letter in the mail in December from Deputy Emory Ray Gerhart, stating there was a warrant out on those charges and advising them to get together $2,000 to pay bond. However, Courtney was not released, but his wife was.
The couple alleges that Deputy Gerhart is abusing his power and has threatened to arrest them on numerous occasions for calling the office. Courtney started a petition to have the deputy fired, which has garnered almost 4,000 signatures online.
“I am worried that they may hurt him,” Mallery said at the detention center. “I am very perplexed and confused at why he’s still being held. We were both charged with the same exact crimes. I paid $2,000 and I was out in 45 minutes. We are now going on 12 hours.”
Concerned citizens gather in support
Activists and concerned citizens gathered at the detention center Monday night to get answers and do their own welfare check, hoping to see Courtney. A clergy visit was made possible by on-duty deputies at the jail, but not without convincing. Courtney was said to be in good spirits but remained in jail overnight.
Deputies at the detention center told Mallery that because she turned herself in in a nearby county, they could not comment on why she was released. But they did say that it was state statute in Colorado for anyone facing a felony charge to go before a judge.
Courtney had a hearing scheduled for 1:30 p.m. During the hearing, his bond was raised to $6,000. The judge stated there was probable cause for the stalking charge against him. FOX31 has filed records requests to view those documents.
The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office confirms that Courtney’s neighbor was arrested last year for violating a restraining order that the rancher took out against her. To the couple’s surprise, those same neighbors filed a temporary restraining order Tuesday morning against Courtney.
Court records show there are several ongoing and previous protective orders between the neighbors. The Mallery family claims the mother and daughter call the police on them while they’re doing work on their own property.
Sheriff Joseph Roybal has since asked the Black and Latino Leadership Coalition to coordinate a meeting with the Mallerys and asked them to pull together a panel of “a diverse representation of the community.”
As of 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Courtney was out of jail on bond with a court date set for next week. Meanwhile, the couple is planning a rally at the capital on Feb. 17.