Courtney and Nicole Mallery’s story has all the makings of an egregious civil rights case.
The Black ranchers escaped hurricane-ravaged Houston on a quest to farm a quiet piece of land in rural El Paso County, a plot they named Freedom Acres Ranch. But things quickly devolved.
The Mallerys’ white neighbors, the couple alleges, are terrorizing them at their home, threatening them with guns, running them off the road, poisoning their livestock.
The local sheriff’s office, they say, is complicit in this harassment and ignores their pleas for help.
The Mallerys’ story went viral in recent weeks, prompting a deluge of supporters demanding justice. Donors poured $200,000 in contributions into an online fundraiser. Black leaders in Colorado assembled behind the ranchers, calling their treatment an abhorrent violation of their constitutional rights — a replica of centuries of mistreatment of Black people in this country.
Courtney Mallery, at a rally at the Colorado State Capitol on Friday, said, “I just want to farm in peace.” Nicole Mallery called it a “modern-day KKK assault on my family.”
A review of court filings and interviews, though, paints a more complicated picture of the situation in the small community 40 minutes east of Colorado Springs. It’s in part a dispute among neighbors, with dozens of allegations of misconduct on both sides and deep mistrust over the others’ intentions. Neighbors say the Mallerys’ actions have been the catalyzing force behind the tension, while the couple says they’re being targeted due to their race.
Law enforcement has seemingly become fed up after responding to 170 calls to the area in a two-year span. Deputies repeatedly noted the Mallerys’ erratic behavior and unreliable testimony, according to records released this week — even encouraging neighbors to move for their own peace of mind.
El Paso County Sheriff Joseph Roybal vigorously defended his office’s treatment of the couple in a news conference this week, even as he announced he was reopening two cases involving the Mallerys where “we could have done more.”
The Denver Post made multiple requests to interview the Mallerys, but was only able to speak with them briefly at Friday’s rally.
“Dogs being poisoned. Animals being gutted, our lives being threatened, people being sent to our home, under threat of lynching, hanging, pitchforks, fire,” Nicole Mallery told Denver7 in an interview this week. “We had a chicken coop set ablaze.”
To date, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office has not arrested anyone in connection with the couple’s most serious allegations of violent threats, arson or animal killings. The Mallerys, though, are facing criminal charges themselves.
The couple’s story touches a nerve for Black Coloradans, who say this is yet another example of law enforcement targeting people of color with trumped-up charges, placing more weight on the allegations of white neighbors.
“This is the most egregious display of injustice I have ever seen in my life,” said Portia Prescott, president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP.
The Mallerys, meanwhile, used the rally at the Capitol on Friday to call for new legislation in Colorado that would criminalize racially motivated emergency calls.
The dream of Freedom Acres
The Mallerys’ story burst into public view last month when a New Jersey-based website called Ark Republic published a two-part narrative of the couple’s allegations.
The stories — based on interviews with the Mallerys, but without comment from neighbors or law enforcement — picked up steam on social media and included a variety of incendiary allegations against both neighbors and the sheriff’s office. Their assertions centered on a conspiracy to rid the Black ranchers of their hard-earned land.
The couple fled to Colorado from Texas after Hurricane Harvey, they said in interviews. Courtney, who goes by CW, said Friday during the rally that he “created Freedom Acres as a dream.”
Their situation drew broader attention from civil rights groups after Courtney Mallery was arrested Feb. 7 and charged with felony stalking, tampering with a utility meter and petty theft related to an ongoing dispute with a neighbor. Nicole Mallery previously had been issued a summons on the same charges.
“Unfortunately, in 2023, we’re still fighting just for basic rights to exist,” Nicole Mallery said in a Facebook video from the jail that day.
The NAACP and other advocates flocked to the El Paso County jail, decrying Courtney’s detention and charges.
“I haven’t seen this kind of corruption before in my life,” said Dr. Vern Howard, chairman of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Colorado Holiday Commission.
Jeff Fard, who runs a cultural center in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, previously had worked with the Mallerys on free food giveaways. Their story, he said, is representative of “that Black demographic that is few and far between.”
“The root of their story is the same story that has gone on since the founding of this country,” Fard said. “Who’s able to own property; who has access and who doesn’t.”
The stalking charges are part of a long-running playbook, Fard and other advocates say: First, you hit a Black person with a felony charge, which denies them the right to bear arms. Once you take away their protection, then you go after their property.
Prescott said she knows what it’s like to feel targeted in a mostly white community.
As a child, her home in the Denver neighborhood formerly known as Stapleton was vandalized by the Klu Klux Klan, she said. People threw bricks through their window on Christmas.
Prescott’s father moved the family to Park Hill after the incidents, she said.
As an adult, she lived in El Paso County. It’s there Prescott said she learned that if you don’t have an American flag waving outside your home, you won’t be welcome in the community.
“El Paso County has a history of violating the civil rights of people of color,” she said.
A flurry of court filings
Everything seemed to start with a dispute over an easement.
Freedom Acres Ranch, located in the small town of Yoder, abuts property owned by Teresa Clark, a 43-year-old white woman who lives with her elderly mother.
Clark told The Post she was friends with the Mallerys when they first moved onto their ranch, helping them build a chicken coop and selling them cattle. Then one day her horse was eating grass on the property line — something Clark said she’d been doing for 35 years — and the dynamic changed. Nicole Mallery, she said, chewed her out, saying that was her property.
“She thinks she owns the county roads,” Clark said. “She thinks she owns everything around the property.”
The Mallerys filed for a temporary protection order in December 2021, alleging Clark was chasing her in her vehicle, stalking and trespassing on their property, and pointing guns at their family.
Clark, in turn, alleged in a January 2022 complaint that the Mallerys were stalking her, making her a “hostage in our own house.”
Over the next year, both parties have gone to court repeatedly to seek restraining orders against one another for everything from intimidating acts to harming animals. The Mallerys also have sought protection orders against other neighbors — and those individuals have filed their own complaints, court records show.
“Everything they say we’re doing is something they’ve done to everybody else,” Clark said. “I feel like I should be on the show ‘Fear Thy Neighbor’ — this is insane.”
Nicole Mallery, in her restraining order complaints, says Clark and her mother have told other white community members to follow, stalk and harass her family because they are Black.
Clark was arrested in September for allegedly violating a protection order by walking onto the Mallerys’ property and taking a picture of one of their cameras. That case is set for trial in April.
The Mallerys’ recent arrest stemmed from video and a stalking log produced by Clark, which allegedly showed the Mallerys driving by her property repeatedly — even though it’s a dead-end easement, according to an arrest affidavit. The ranchers also allegedly placed cameras directly across from Clark’s property, and the window of her truck was busted out with tire tracks leading to Freedom Acres Ranch, the document states.
“I… find it highly unusual that the Mallerys feel the need to put themselves in such close proximity to Ms. Clark for no foreseeable reason,” El Paso County sheriff’s Sgt. E.R. Gerhart wrote in the Dec. 9 arrest affidavit.
Tyrone Glover, a Denver civil rights attorney representing Courtney Mallery, said he’s concerned that Mallerys’ side of the story is not being investigated in the same manner as the couple’s white neighbors.
“It was definitely a warning”
The Mallerys’ time in Colorado has been marked by a litany of encounters with neighbors and law enforcement — and it goes beyond the dispute with Clark.
On April 7, 2021, Jake Saksteder arrived at Freedom Acres Ranch to serve Courtney Mallery with civil papers regarding a property case.
The 24-year-old said he had delivered countless legal documents during his job as a process server. Sometimes people would try and evade him or yell, he told The Post. But he’d never had an encounter like the one at the ranch that day.
Saksteder told The Post that he walked around the property, knocking on several doors, but didn’t get an answer.
Nicole Mallery then burst out of the shed with a shotgun pointed at his head, Saksteder said. Much of his encounter is captured on video from his phone, which was released by El Paso County authorities this week.
“What the (expletive) are you doing?” Nicole shouts at the process server, according to the video. Saksteder tries to tell her several times that he’s there to serve Courtney Mallery with legal papers.
“I swear to God, relax, I’m leaving!” Saksteder says in the video.
He told The Post that he saw Mallery cock the weapon and that’s when he took off running, chased by a dog. Audio from the video makes out the sound of a shot fired into the air.
“It was aimed well above me,” Saksteder said. “It wasn’t a shot to kill — it was definitely a warning. Like, keep moving fast.”
In statements to El Paso County deputies that day, Nicole Mallery allegedly gave a false date of birth and changed the state of her identification, according to an arrest affidavit. She told deputies that she kept asking the process server to produce identification, demanding he say why he was trespassing on her property.
Mallery said she wanted to file charges for breaking and entering, trespass and attempted rape (Saksteder was not charged).
After authorities found Saksteder and watched video from his phone, they determined Mallery’s statement contradicted the video evidence.
Mallery was charged with felony menacing, fraud, bribery of a public servant and making a false report, court records show. She ultimately pleaded guilty to making a false report, a misdemeanor, and received two years probation, the documents show. The district attorney dismissed the remainder of the counts.
Saksteder told his client he “sure as hell” would never go back to the Mallerys’ ranch.
This incident wasn’t the only time Nicole Mallery is accused of threatening someone with a weapon.
Six months after the encounter with the process server, she was arrested after allegedly drawing a weapon on a father and his 14-year-old son, who said they stopped to look at a bullnose snake in the middle of the road.
As the pair looked at the snake from inside their car, the Mallerys allegedly pulled up in their vehicle, screaming at them for being on her property, according to an Oct. 21, 2021, arrest affidavit.
The man told deputies that Nicole brandished a gun, pulling the magazine out and back in, the arrest affidavit states. The man and his son moved behind the engine for cover.
The teen, now 16, says when Mallery got the gun from the backseat, “that’s when I realized that anything could happen.” (The newspaper is not identifying him because he’s a minor.)
“From then on, passing the Mallerys give me a weird feeling and I am unsure if something like that will happen again,” he wrote in a letter to the sheriff’s office, a copy of which was reviewed by The Post. “Because that morning was the scariest morning I remember.”
Nicole Mallery said the individuals were on her property, called her a “black n-word” and asked if she could speak English, according to the court documents.
She was issued a summons for harassment and child abuse. That case is set for trial in May.
“My dispute is with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office”
All told, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office says it responded to 170 calls for service that in some way involved the Mallerys over the past two years.
Between August 2021 and September 2022, Clark was the reporting party 46 times while Nicole Mallery initiated 47 calls, the sheriff’s office said. Courtney Mallery made 11 calls to authorities, with another nine made by other people in the area.
El Paso County has issued three news releases this month on the Mallery family and ongoing disputes, in addition to holding an hour-long press conference. That’s far more than the agency puts out for a typical homicide or when deputies have shot and killed people.
Sheriff Roybal, speaking in front of reporters Wednesday, said his office would be reopening two cases involving the Mallerys, including one in which the couple were the victims. He did not specify which cases these were or what kind of incidents they involved.
Roybal said he received 19 personnel complaints alleging employee misconduct. All have been investigated and were deemed to be unfounded, he said. The complaint summaries will be released with redactions, the department said Thursday in a news release.
The Mallerys have focused their ire on one officer in particular — Gerhart — who has been the subject of several of their complaints.
“No one would be more eager than I to rid my office of a deputy sheriff who was racist in treating members of the community unfairly based on race,” the sheriff said Wednesday.
Nicole Mallery told Denver7 this week that, “I do not have a neighbor dispute. My dispute is with El Paso County Sheriff’s Office for enabling this behavior.” She and her husband have said the sheriff’s office appears determined to get them off their land.
“If you can’t call 911,” Courtney Mallery said at the rally Friday, “who are you supposed to rely on?”
Roybal this week released 129 pages of reports detailing the myriad calls for service involving the ranchers and their neighbors. He also made public body-worn camera footage from several of the incidents.
In one event, in April 2021, Nicole Mallery allegedly kicked a sheriff’s deputy repeatedly in his legs and bit him on his forearm, according to a summary of the encounter. She was charged with second-degree assault of a peace officer and received a two-year deferred sentence, court records show.
In body-camera video, Nicole Mallery can be heard calling one of the Black sheriff’s deputies a “field negro” and other personnel “white trash” and Klu Klux Klan members.
Nicole Mallery was taken to the hospital, where she told doctors that the cops “broke her shoulder and choked her out until she was unconscious.” The footage of the arrest that was released did not appear to show these events, nor are they detailed anywhere else in the police reports.
At Friday’s rally, Nicole Mallery told The Post that she hadn’t seen the video. Glover, her husband’s attorney, said law enforcement typically only puts out a curated selection of evidence to support their position.
“It was a moment — it does not define who we are as people,” Mallery said.
Prescott, from the NAACP, said she was alarmed that the sheriff’s office sent the SWAT team to conduct the arrest that day.
“Why on earth, if you’re a capable sheriff, would you need to call SWAT on a husband and wife on an isolated farm?” she said. “That’s the most traumatizing thing they could ever live through in life. This demonstrates El Paso County is incapable of doing their job. How weak can you get?”
The documents portray a department at its wits end over the ongoing feuds and incessant calls for service.
Many of the calls consisted of the Mallerys or Clark claiming restraining order violations. Nicole Mallery called multiple times to say Clark was threatening her with a gun, only for deputies to later determine it was a cellphone, according to records released by the sheriff’s office. In another, Nicole Malery told authorities she had video showing Clark tampering with one of their cameras. Deputies wrote that it appeared to just be Clark’s shadow.
“It has been my observation that (Nicole Mallery) is the common denominator of all issues within her community,” Deputy Scott Brettell wrote in a March 13, 2022, report. “She has been assaultive with deputies and verbally abusive to deputies and her neighbors. Upon contact with her, almost every time she is generally antagonistic, if not one of the most antagonistic people I have ever met.
“She’s in a constant state of anger and generally miserable.”
Deputies wrote that Nicole Mallery would often say she has video of alleged incidents, but would never actually provide the evidence.
It wasn’t just the Mallerys. Command staff made “several cautions” on one of their neighbor’s addresses (it was redacted in reports), telling staff to start all non-emergent or cold calls by phone, according to a December 2022 report.
“I have realized that many deputies do not wish to investigate matters between the (Clarks and Mallerys),” Gerhart, the sheriff’s sergeant, wrote in an October 2022 report.
Brettell, in the March report, wrote that he sees “no possible antidote to the situation” and that he “encouraged (the Mallerys’) neighbors, for their own peace of mind, to consider moving away.”
Rallying at the Capitol
The Mallerys’ story reached the state Capitol on Friday morning.
More than 100 people showed up to rally in support of the ranchers, calling for the adoption in Colorado of the CAREN Act That law, which has been enacted in New York and San Fransisco, makes placing racist 911 calls a hate crime.
“That’s not anything that is proposed here, in the past or presently,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado.
State Rep. Naquetta Ricks and Sen. Tony Exum Sr., both members of the Black legislative caucus, told the crowd Friday that the caucus is supporting the family and watching the case closely.
For one attendee, the Mallerys’ story hit home. Bella Czace’s father was a Black cowboy, and she remembers moving from ranch to ranch across Colorado after communities drove them away. They called her the N-word, she said, and wouldn’t feed their horses.
“They don’t care if you’re a kid,” Czace said. “If you’re Black, they’re gonna harass you.”
Courtney Mallery, clad in a cowboy hat and baggy jeans, said their experience has been eye-opening. He just wants to farm in peace.
“It’s been hard, y’all,” he told the crowd. “The fight is not over.”
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