A Black couple rebuilt their lives after losing everything in a hurricane. They never thought they’d be thrown into a fight for their ranch and possibly their lives in a predominantly white and hostile Colorado county.
Every night on Freedom Acres Ranch is a gamble of life and death for Black cattleman Courtney W. Mallery and his wife Nicole. As of late, he most likely will find tools destroyed, a prized calf stolen, or one of his hogs with their entrails spewing from slit bellies.
Beheaded and butchered goat carcasses are a common sight. Recently, his newly-born calf vanished. Not long ago, the mother of his Pyrenees puppies was poisoned along with several pigs. Often, he picks up animal remains on the farm and has had to put out fires like when the chicken coop was set ablaze.
To make the situation more tenuous, the Mallery’s fence has been damaged over 10 times. Frequently, they must replace surveillance equipment after they see strangers pointing a device towards their cameras which ends up jamming them and taking out the signal. Plus, their electricity lines have been cut and neighbors have stolen well water by running an illegal line from their source.
One day, Courtney was chased by a white man when repairing a portion of his fence. The aggressor, who was in a car, gunned for Courtney who made it to his vehicle in just enough time to dash away in a hellish pursuit. Once he made it to the end of his property, the man steered the other way.
One evening, Nicole was followed by a white woman who almost ran her car off the road then put on high beams and pulled out what looked like a gun. The confrontation was exceptionally unnerving because Nicole was returning from a church function with her visiting nieces and nephew.
Once or twice a week, strange white people drive slowly by their ranch, stop and take pictures or video, and sometimes brandish guns at them. The couple is frequently followed; especially while they are in town. As a result, they rarely travel and are mindful at what time. Clearly, they are unwanted.
“Even the post office workers ask us why we’re here,” says Courtney. A regular phrase told to Courtney is that “he has a lot of the balls” to purchase land in the mostly white community.
“What puts me on edge is that everyone knows us and how we look, but we don’t know them,” Courtney tells Ark Republic.
This is just some of the reports of terror the Houston transplant says his family has experienced since the purchase of a 1,000 acre ranch in El Paso County Colorado in August 2020. Courtney Mallery alleges he and his wife have been the target of local whites who want them off of their land.
“It’s like I’m being tormented for doing God’s work,” says Mallery who is exhausted because his family has not slept for months from keeping night watches. Added to the everyday toil of keeping an active ranch, they are constantly repairing the damage done on and to the ranch.
| Read Get Out Part 2. “I stood naked with my shotgun.”
When asked why he thinks he’s being targeted, Courtney claims the rural community wants to “steal his land”; especially after he turned down numerous requests to lease his acreages to local whites. To worsen his predicament, he alleges that El Paso County officer, Sergeant Emery “Ray” Gerhart, has been complicit in the concerted effort to move his family off of their land, and even participates in the ongoing racialized actions.
On multiple occasions, the county sheriff is captured on Freedom Acres Ranch footage in his patrol car driving around the perimeters of the Mallery property. Ironically, he has yet to take a police report from the Mallery’s for their numerous complaints of trespassing strangers, animal deaths, theft on their property and list of other offenses. Courtney told Ark Republic that Sgt. Gerhart has even forbidden them from using a portion of their land for their ranching enterprise.
“As the only Black farmer in the area, it’s become evident that our skin color and race are the only driving factors of this extreme racism, discrimination and harassment. No other farmers have been approached or have had any of our experiences,” stated Courtney in a petition to get Sgt. Gerhart fired. An update revealed that Gerhart was promoted as a sergeant from the deputy sheriff position.
For two years, the Mallerys have lived in fear and rage. Courtney even went to the state commissioner’s meeting to complain when his numerous calls to local law enforcement went unheard. Nothing happened. He believes it is because “they are all related” through marriage, blood or multi-generational kinship.
However, the louder Courtney and Nicole got, the more aggressive the hostility became. “Gerhart told me that if I keep calling the police, he’s going to arrest me,” Courtney recounts just days before he discovered an arrest warrant had been issued to him and Nicole by Gerhat.
“We are upset, we are here to fight, but they’re trying to silence us and make us look like we’re crazy,” an exasperated Courtney told Ark Republic. “They [are] trying to steal my land and lock us up to cover this up.”
On Thursday, January 12, 2023 the Mallerys received a warrant filed on December 14, 2022 in the mail. Charges are stalking, tampering with a utility meter and petty theft. The letter states that they must turn themselves in and be prepared to pay a $2,000 bond. An update on the charges show that the stalking is a felony, while tampering with a utility meter is a Class 2 misdemeanor.
“This gives local authorities probable cause,” Dr. Rolanda Spencer told Ark Republic. Dr. Spencer is a social justice professor at Xavier University who has worked in criminal justice and re-entry for almost 20 years.
“The warrant now makes him a fugitive, and if he gets arrested, the holding time [for trial] will not be easy if there is already a history with the police being antagonistic,” she further explained. “Right now it is dangerous for them.”
Ark Republic reached out to El Paso County Sheriff’s communications director, but they have yet to respond.
My country tis of thee
The Mallerys received the warrant notice so late because they are in a state program that protects their identity following a 2021 doxing incident. “It is the program that victims of domestic violence use when they are attempting to hide from their abuser,” explained Courtney.
Doxing is when someone’s personal information is revealed with malicious intent. On a Facebook community page connected to El Paso County residents, the Mallerys’ address was leaked along with a photo of Courtney. Multiple comments under the post suggested that the locals would defend “Merica” against “individuals that don’t know rights, rules and regulations.”
Following the Facebook post of the Mallery’s personal information, sightings of whites trespassing and destruction to their ranch increased. “Fires, pitchforks, and ropes are familiar sights for my family,” wrote Courtney.
As a result of the doxing, their phone numbers, personal addresses and emails are secreted. Any mail sent to their home is redirected to another address, thus the reason why they obtained the warrant almost a month after it was filed. Now a really ugly situation has escalated.
On Monday, they are attending a MLK holiday breakfast in Denver in hopes to galvanize more supporters outside of getting help from law enforcement. So far, Courtney has alerted the NAACP, the ACLU, and fellow church members. A staff member at the ACLU agreed to help but recently died. The NAACP has been mum, and church-goers have been doing prayer circles.
“I’m out here taking care of animals, but not getting any help,” exclaimed Courtney. “I am getting emotional and frustrated on my end.”
One nation, very divisible, with liberty and land for some
In 2017, the Mallery’s moved to Colorado after floods from Hurricane Harvey displaced them. Colorado was chosen because Courtney got accepted into the Veteran Teach program at the Community College of Denver, a campus that is part of the Colorado Community College system. “I was the only Black and male in my class, but I pushed through,” said Courtney who admitted to encountering racism while there, but he took it as the run-of-the-mill experiences of being Black in America.
When he finished in 2020, he and Nicole decided to stay and build a future. At the time, they were living in Strasburg, which is about 20 to 30 minutes outside of Denver, but they decided to go more inland. “Actually, I had a dream of being a National Geographic photographer when growing up, but I have a story like a lot of urban Black youth,” said Courtney whose roots are in Houston. “I grew up in the inner city, but my grand-parents were farmers. I chose a different path, but always had a love for agriculture.”
After the bumps and curves of youth, Courtney finished and re-sculpted his dream. “I knew I wanted to follow what my family did, I wanted to return to farming.” Rather than Texas, like many Americans, he and Nicole wanted to forge their legacies on new soil. Plus, there was another incentive to stay in Colorado.
“The land was cheap, and the landscape is beautiful,” said Courtney. “On the weekends I would ride through the countryside looking at different properties. Through my experience, there were particular things that I wanted.”
What he found out is that Pikes Peak, the range of Rocky Mountains in the state, had two sides. One was arid and dry, while the other had more moisture, which made it more suitable to farm. Added, the stony landscape carried a global reputation for its breathtaking views.
With a big vision in hand to carve out an estate that generations could use, the Mallerys hired a local realtor. They also did more research on the Black agricultural presence in the state. Since the Mallerys had been in Colorado for some years, they were starting to locate other Black ranchers and growers. At a Bill Pickett Rodeo event, Courtney spoke to other residents who told him that the cold weather made farming and ranching more challenging and for him “to be careful out there.” However, “they never said what to be careful about,” told Courtney.
The Mallerys found a property in 2020 and put in a bid, but the offer was rescinded when they found out they were Black, detailed Nicole. Eventually, the realtor directed them to a massive ranch that had been abandoned and in foreclosure. To sweeten the pot, the ranch was located on the side of the peak that was more damp.
“It was hard getting this land. The U.S.D.A. were not helpful and really did not want Black people to acquire that much land. We didn’t use most of the programs [available to us] but we bought land that we wanted to be in our family for generations,” said Nicole.
Although the ranch sat in a picturesque location with fertile soil, “it had become a dump site,” said Courtney. The homestead became a waste repository for tires, old trailer parts and other refuse. People were taking whatever they could from the land, and the fence was in disrepair.
After driving to the land to inspect it before the purchase, he recalls stopping and taking a 360 degree view. Even though he’d never pursued his career dream job as a nature photographer, Courtney understood natural beauty all too well. Subsequently, the Mallerys took everything they had to purchase the land, knowing that they would recover back their money in profitable returns as ranchers raising beef cattle, pigs, goats and chickens for meat.
However, between the dead animals, loss in business and damaged property over the last two years, Courtney estimates he has lost $200,000, and is still hemorrhaging money.
Update on February 17, 2023
This is the first story in our agricultural beat on the challenges of farming by farmers of color. “Get out” is part one of a series covering Courtney and Nicole Mallery in their fight to keep their farm. Initially a two-part story, it is ongoing.
We’re raising money for Ark Republic and Black Farmers Index. We need your help to keep the wheels churning and the stories flowing. Please donate to organizations committed to keeping you informed with rich, robust stories and great connections to empowered people.