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'A modern day KKK assault': Black ranchers in rural El Paso County claim they're being terrorized

The couple says the sheriff's office has not thoroughly investigated their claims
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Posted at 7:21 PM, Feb 14, 2023
and last updated 2023-02-15 20:30:14-05

EL PASO COUNTY, Colo. — An online search with the keywords “Black Ranchers in El Paso County, Colorado” will likely result in images of dead animals, torn Black Lives Matter flags, and a Black couple pleading for justice.

The married couple at the center of this viral story is Nicole and Courtney “CW” Mallery and the story begins with the purchase of their 640-acre property called Freedom Acres Ranch in 2020.

According to the Mallerys, immediately after taking ownership of their land, they began having problems with their neighbor. The couple said those problems would lead to extremely racist acts and repeated damage to their livestock and property.

Neighbor dispute

A road easement located in between the Mallery’s property and their neighbor has been the source of conflict between the two parties for more than a year.

On Feb. 6, after months of the Mallerys and their neighbor filing complaints against each other, the couple were arrested.

Denver7 obtained arrest affidavits for CW and Nicole Mallery.

The affidavits, both written by the same El Paso County Sheriff’s Office Sergeant, named the Mallery’s neighbor as the victim in the case. The woman had been in touch with the El Paso County Sheriff's Office since March 11, 2022, due to issues she had had with Courtney Mallery and Nicole Mallery.

'A modern-day KKK assault': Black ranchers in rural El Paso County claim they're being terrorized

They all live south of Yoder in El Paso County. The woman lives a little more than a mile south of the Mallery family. The woman said she is disabled and lives with her elderly mother to care for her. She lives at a dead end.

"(She) is in fear for her safety due to unusual and disturbing behavior from the residents to the north of her property," the affidavit reads. It specified that Nicole Mallery is the main person the woman feared. In the document, the sergeant wrote that the woman provided him with videos and photos "of activity that I feel is criminal in nature."

That has included, as outlined in the affidavit:

  • The woman's truck's window was busted out. She took a video that showed tire tracks from the scene going to the Mallery property
  • There are multiple cameras on the Mallery property, including one that is unobstructed and points directly to the woman's home, including a clear view of her bedroom window. In October 2022, they added two more cameras with a similar view of the woman's residence. A fourth was added at a later time. Some cameras were fixed to South East Power Company Association power poles
  • Videos showing the Mallery family accessing the easement between the two properties. This included instances of the Mallerys arriving on the easement when the woman exited her house
  • Video shows Nicole Mallery stopping her vehicle in front of the woman's property, exiting her car, putting her hands in the air and saying, "Hands up, don't shoot." Shortly afterward, Courtney Mallery is seen walking by the property with his hands in the air
  • A video shows Nicole Mallery using a loudspeaker to list things that the woman should pack "for heaven"

A surveillance video of Courtney Mallery driving by her property on Oct. 27 after she had left for work. The video captured their vehicle driving by her property six times that day.

The sergeant noted in the affidavit that this was strange as the Mallery family had restraining orders against the woman — though those have been dismissed. According to the document, investigators found "it highly unusual that the Mallerys, Nicole in particular, feel the need to put themselves in such close proximity to (the woman) for no foreseeable reason." The sergeant said he has lived in rural El Paso County for 20 years and investigated criminal activity in those areas for seven years, and he found "this activity highly unusual and outright disturbing."

The Mallery’s response to law enforcement’s claims

In their first in-depth broadcast interview, the Mallerys shared their reaction to their arrest affidavit and claims made in the documents that they were intimidating their neighbor by walking on the road easement with their hands up.

“My cows were loose, so we went down there, got our cows and we pushed them back the way they came out. And as we said, we need to put our hands up and say, 'Please don't shoot us. We're just getting our cows,'” CW said.

Nicole said she was unsure how the gesture was perceived as threatening to their neighbor.

“Putting our hands up is a safety [measure] as an African American. As a young girl, we've been taught that when you are in a situation where it is not safe, and you believe there is a danger to your life, and there's a gun pointed at you, or anything of that sort to ensure that you are in a non-threatening position. I did not want my cows to be harmed or shot or maimed,” Nicole said.

As for another interaction in the affidavit that described Nicole as using a loudspeaker to tell her neighbor should pack “for heaven," Nicole said her neighbor was mistaken.

“I do not own a loud speaking device. I do not own anything like that, except for a car. So, the only thing that would be playing in my vehicle would be Pastor Sarah Jake Roberts,” Nicole said.

Nicole said she was playing the pastor’s sermon loudly in her car and the subject of that sermon was about getting to heaven.

But the Mallerys said issues with their neighbor are just one part of a much larger problem.

“Let me be clear about something, I do not have a neighbor dispute. My dispute is with El Paso County Sheriff's Department for enabling this behavior,” Nicole said.

Nicole said she’s particularly concerned about one El Paso County Sheriff’s Office sergeant who she’s filed multiple complaints against. That same sergeant wrote the arrest affidavit.

The Mallerys said since the sheriff's office got involved in the dispute with their neighbor, threats against them have increased.

“In what I believe is a modern-day KKK assault against my family,” Nicole said.

Nicole said she uncovered threats from local community members on a Facebook page.

In screenshots provided by the Mallerys, one commenter wrote: ”I was amazed at how much property was tagged black lives matter, didn’t expect that kind of in-your-face crap way out here.”

Another comment read: “let’s all go have car issues on that road.”

Nicole shared a screenshot of another comment which read “are there any restrictions on size of pitchforks and fire sticks in Colorado.”

The Mallerys said the Facebook page has been taken down.

Following the online threats, CW said he felt better when he had security cameras in place around the property. But the sheriff’s office confiscated several of his cameras while allowing his neighbor's cameras to remain in place.

“You remove the only support that I have, and the only other eyes I have, to try to catch what's going on around me,” CW said.

CW said over the past few months threats have escalated to violence.

“Dogs being poisoned. Animals being gutted, our lives being threatened, people being sent to our home, under threat of lynching, hanging, pitchforks, fire. We had a chicken coop set ablaze,” Nicole Mallery said.

Nicole said she is unsure who committed these crimes on her property and the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has not provided any answers.

“Actually, I think maybe what happened was they were trying to figure out how to charge us with a crime,” Nicole said. “We have used every system that they have in place. We met with Chief Clif Northam. He, at the time, was the only African American person who was on the chief staff or the top brass. We asked him, 'could you as the community liaison get some type of meeting or have some type of coffee, coffee with a cop or something.' Because we saw that things were escalating in terms of what was happening.”

Nicole said that the meeting never happened.

On Feb. 6, El Paso County Sheriff Joseph Roybal wrote a letter requesting the Black and Latino Leadership Coalition coordinate a meeting between the sheriff and the Mallerys.

The couple said the meeting request is two years too late and they are not interested in the meeting at this time.

NAACP, MLK Holiday Commission, and ACLU step in

Around the time the Mallerys were arrested, the chair of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission Dr. Vern L. Howard and the NAACP headquartered in Denver began investigating their case.

“Angela Stevens, who's the president of the NAACP in Colorado Springs, was contacted by the Mallerys. For the last year and a half, she’s been trying to help them through all of the harassment, the stalking, the intimidation. Basically, she escalated it to me. And once I got involved, pretty much we were thrown off that they got arrested. So I escalated up to the National NAACP office so that we can do a full investigation,” Portia Prescott, Colorado Montana Wyoming State-Area Conference NAACP President said. “I've met with the commanders from El Paso County and it was very apparent that they weren’t listening at all to the Mallerys.”

Rashad Younger, NAACP Membership Committee chair said he also asked the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office about investigating the Mallery’s claims.

“I said, you know, we're seeing decapitated animals. We're seeing animals that had been poisoned, that have been mutilated, and why wasn't there any response? And their answer was this was never reported to our office, which is incorrect,” Younger said.

Howard said one detail that is not being discussed is the restraining order that was granted against one neighbor.

“One of their particular neighbors, who have really been terrorizing them,” Howard said.

Howard said the sheriff’s office should have stepped in and mediated long ago.

“They could have reached out to any community leaders, regardless of their race, color, or creed. I mean, I wish they would have reached out to us because we have that coalition with these different organizations,” Howard said.

The NAACP helped bail the Mallerys out of jail and are working on providing legal representation. They are partnering with the ACLU to provide other support.

Social media support and planned rally

The Mallerys said they have found comfort in the support they’ve received on social media.

“We thank social media and for everyone who has shown support,” CW Mallery said.

“The years that we've been here, it's been us. And so we believe that because it's been only us. It's been easy, simple for them to act as if we don't exist. But now, it's impossible for them to forget us,” Nicole said.

Social media posts sharing the Mallery’s allegations have called on supporters to reach out to Colorado Governor Jared Polis and U.S. Senators John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet.

Governor Polis’s Office confirmed the state is aware of the issue.

Senator Hickenlooper’s office sent the following statement:

“Our office is aware of these claims and takes them very seriously. Members of Senator Hickenlooper’s Colorado staff are meeting with folks on the ground, including NAACP local and regional chapters, and are monitoring this situation closely.”

Senator Bennet's team also sent this statement:

“Our office is aware of the situation involving Courtney and Nicole Mallery and we’re in touch with the NAACP Colorado Montana Wyoming State-Area Conference and other advocates.”

The Mallerys and their supporters are hosting a rally at the State Capitol on Friday.

EL Paso County Sheriff holds a news conference

During a news conference on Tuesday, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office denied the Mallery’s claims of racial discrimination.

The sheriff’s office said they investigated 19 different complaints filed by or involving the Mallerys and responded to over 170 calls for service involving them.

The office confirmed, 46 of those calls were made by the Mallery’s neighbor, 47 were made by Nicole, and CW called 11 times.

However, the content of those calls is still unknown.

“Since the time of Mr. Mallery’s arrest, my office has received numerous calls from people voicing concern with how we have handled the Mallery’s situation,” El Paso County Sheriff Joseph Roybal said during the press conference.

The Sheriff went on to say racism would not be tolerated.

“No one would be more eager than I to rid my office of a deputy sheriff who is racist and treating members of the community unfairly,” Roybal said.

The Sheriff’s office provided shared a few body camera videos, painting the Mallerys as combative and unwilling to cooperate in unrelated investigations.

But the sheriff’s office provided few details about the Mallery's current claims of harassment and racial discrimination.

The sheriff did announce a decision to review prior cases and so far the office has reopened two, one of which involves the Mallerys as victims.

Denver7 requested records, reports, and interviews from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office on Thursday, Feb. 9.

They did not immediately respond to the interview request but sent a quote for thousands of dollars to gain access to the records.

Four days after our request for an interview and one day before the press conference the sheriff’s office said Roybal was unavailable for an interview.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the office released 129 pages of records pertaining to cases involving the Mallerys for no cost.

This is developing a story. An update to this story will be published on Wednesday.

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