Several key developments since Ark Republic broke the story of Colorado ranchers who were on the brink of losing their land and possibly freedom in a small Colorado town.
“Farm in peace, live in peace,” was a rallying cry needed in a heated battle in rural Colorado that spilled beyond the mountainous state’s borders. At the center was a couple, Courtney and Nicole Mallery, who exhausted much of their time, energy and resources to protect their land, Freedom Acres Ranch. According to the Houston transplants, they were criminalized after reporting to El Paso County Sheriff’s Department (EPCSD) their issues with a neighbor named Teresa Clark.
Though violence in rural America goes under-reported, many heard the Mallery story across multiple channels. Subsequently, it stimulated discourse on the risk of being Black and farming, and activated many to address the problems. On May 11, all charges against the ranchers were dropped by an El Paso County judge. The decision was announced by Mr. Mallery’s attorney, Tyrone Glover, in the following statement.
We are pleased with this outcome and recognize the District Attorney’s office for reaching this conclusion. While justice has been served today, the fight for individual, law enforcement and prosecutorial accountability are far from over. We implore the District Attorney’s and Sheriff’s Offices to conduct more thorough front-end investigations before filing charges, to minimize injustices such as these in the future and to ensure the criminally accused are afforded due process of law.
This dismissal is a huge relief for the couple who have maintained that they have been subjected to ongoing harassment and threats from local townspeople, and mistreatment from EPCSD. Included in their allegations, they have been targeted because they are Black farmers in a predominantly white town with residents and police officers who have exhibited behavior that is racist, and in particular, anti-Black.
The Mallerys’ story caught attention when agricultural advocacy group, Black Farmers Index, released two posts in January 2023, asking for the agricultural community to assist in bringing attention to their situation. Days later, Ark Republic released a series of stories in January themed, “Get Out.” Both organizations’ coverage went viral, and ultimately was picked up by Colorado press that had enacted a white out beforehand.
Weeks after Ark Republic broke the Mallery story, EPCSD issued a statement denying any racist practices. They also accused Ark Republic of not getting their side of the story. However, Ark Republic maintains that they did contact the communications department. EPCSD admitted to not having a DEI staff member, nor having the metrics in place to measure its effectiveness on DEI practices. Since, the department’s communication director, EPCSD’s Communications Director, Sgt. Deborah Mynatt was moved to another position. Ark Republic reached out to inquire updates surrounding the Courtney and Nicole case, but have yet to hear from any EPCSD representative.
Time for some action
Shortly after the Mallerys’ story came out, a GoFundMe campaign was launched in support of the couple who told Ark Republic their resources were strained due to the numerous costs that accumulated in their two-year ordeal. In total, they surmised to have lost about $250,000. To date, the fundraiser has accrued to over $234,000. “Thanks to donations we have security and companies looking out for [the] ranch and us,” Mr. Mallery informed Ark Republic.
Included in their help, the local NAACP donated $10,000 for Mr. Mallery’s retainer. Portia Prescott, the president of the Rocky Mountain NAACP and a third-generation Black Coloradoan, recounted to Ark Republic that multiple groups came together to explore their cases because of its complexity. This also includes real estate experts looking into the several hundred acres that are in dispute between the county and the Mallerys.
In the fight, there was also a call for legislative action. This past February, the couple along with supporters, descended on the capital steps to advocate for the passage of the CAREN Act, which stands for Caution Against Racially Exploitative Non-Emergencies. The proposed bill would make it a criminal offense for people to use law enforcement in racially-motivated, false complaints. It was in direct response to their dealings with allegations made by Clark who lives on neighboring land with her mother, Bonnie Clark.
Included in the rally around the Mallery couple were farmers, ranchers, food activists and community advocates both local and across the nation. One of them was Thai Nguyen of Denver’s Kaizen Food Share, who purchased two cows from Mr. Mallery to keep his meat operation going.
In 2020, Nguyen met the Mallery’s at a food distribution event she co-facilitated with Pam Jiner, founder of GirlTrek and Montbello Walks. The pop-up took place in the Montbello district of Denver, a northeastern neighborhood in the city that is majority African American and Latino.
“They supported us at the height of the pandemic,” Nguyen recounted in gratitude. Never once meeting Nguyen, the Mallery’s took the almost two-hour drive to Denver “with . . . coolers full of [fresh] food … their meats and eggs.”
Throughout the months, many were called to task, while many remained silent. But those who stood up carried a strong demand for the state to address its long-held issues with race.
White fragility, white violence
While many news agencies framed the Mallery issue as a land dispute between them and their neighbor Teresa Clark, Prescott pointed to what she described as a systemic issue of racism. “There have been issues with racism before the Mallery’s. This case just brought attention to what we already know and experience here,” said Prescott.
Clark’s accusations are at the center of the Mallerys’ charges that have been dismissed, but talk of a time when white women made serious, and often false accusations against Black people. During the back-and-forth between the Mallerys and Clark, she voiced panic against the Mallery couple. Clark even said she was in fear of being violated by Mr. Mallery, implying in a sexual way.
On the other hand, Clark and her ardent supporters are being accused of using terror and racialized provocations to fellow whites who disagree with them. In messages between a neighbor named Justin and Mr. Mallery, Justin said he has been called a “racist and traitors to white people just [because] we don’t blindly follow their BS.” Another white woman who sided with the Mallerys had child services called on her after it was known of her position on the matter.
What is more, Prescott filed a complaint with the Colorado Springs police against Clark who threatened to “shoot her in the back.” It just so happened that Prescott was visiting her mother when Clark phoned Prescott’s mother’s line. In the conversation, Prescott alleges Clark threatened to use a shotgun on her. The incident “scared” Prescott who said Clark’s behavior was like she was “stalking” her to “go through all these details and find this much information about her.”
“Colorado has an issue with racism,” claimed Prescott who mentioned that a recent Colorado Springs mayoral candidate, Yemi Mobolade, discovered someone burned a cross near one of his campaign signs which also had the world “nigger” spray painted in red across it.
For Prescott, she had to receive security detail due to the level of death threats after she came out in support of Courtney and Nicole Mallery. “I could not believe I had to have Colorado Springs police escort me because I was supporting some Black farmers.”
Silence is violence
Prescott also said that she reached out to Gov. Jarod Polis (D). As well, in a previous story, food justice activist, Thai Ngyuen mentioned that she personally confronted the governor at an event in January. He has yet to publicly speak on the issue.
“Gov. Polis needs to respond in regards to this matter,” Rashad Younger expressed to Ark Republic. “Our governor here in Colorado … represents a minority group because he’s part of the LGBTQ [community] … but he doesn’t represent our community. He’s the governor for all people, but he hasn’t really done anything for Black people in the state,” Younger further commented on Gov. Polis’ silence.
A recent article by Colorado Politics stated that Gov. Polis was a name on the list of potential 2024 presidential candidates if President Joe Biden’s candidacy flops. “If he does throw his hat in the ring … I just don’t want people thinking ‘we have this governor out here that’s gay … and he’s all about equity and he’s all for Black people,’ when he’s not.”
According to Younger, it was the appeal of the NAACP that pushed for local press to cover the Mallery issue after Ark Republic broke the story. He said Gov. Polis should have used his influence to step in, and call for national, mainstream news to cover the incident. Regardless, the story was covered by a number of Black publications, and eventually local news and other independent press such as Vice.
Justice for Donaciano Amaya
Before the Mallery charges were dropped, EPCSD announced that it apprehended a suspect in the murder of Donaciano Amaya, the ranch hand who worked on the Mallerys’ Freedom Acres Ranch. Officers apprehended Kevin Armondo Chaparro-Macias for the crime. A repeat-offender, he has been held without bond in El Paso County jail since his arrest.
“They never care[d] about Don[‘s] murder until [our issue] happen[ed],” messaged Mr. Mallery to Ark Republic.
Initially, Ark Republic reported that Mr. Amaya was found at home in his chicken coop, as stated by Mr. Mallery. However, a press release issued by EPCSD details that he was discovered on his property after a call for a wellness check. The location of his body was not disclosed.
In the press release, the sheriff’s department provided a timeline of their investigatory actions towards the case. According to their press release they wrote the following:
- On October 10th, 2022, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office received notification of a Combined DNA Index System, often called CODIS, hit that tentatively identified the unknown male as Kevin Armondo Chaparro-Macias, date of birth February 9th, 1997.
- On February 10th, 2023, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office’s investigations division received a lab report for a DNA sample collected from Chaparro-Macias. Those results strongly implicated Chaparro-Macias as contributing to the unknown male DNA collected from the initial homicide scene.
- On March 8th, 2023, the Colorado Springs Police Department Metro Fugitives Unit, in partnership with the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office SWAT Team, arrested Chaparro-Macias. Chaparro-Macias was booked into the El Paso County Jail, has been charged with First-degree Murder, and is being held without bond.
While their timeline shows how they dealt with the investigation, NAACP Colorado Springs branch president Angela Stevens told Ark Republic that EPCSD had to reopen the case. Stevens was among several Colorado Springs representatives from local organizations that met with the County Sheriff Joseph Roybal and El Paso County Commander Eric Carnell on March 1. There was a follow up meeting with NAACP Colorado Springs’ executive committee on March 20. A press release dated May 1, two months later, on the EPCSD website, announced the meeting.
“The point of the meeting was not to speak on the Mallerys’. The point of the meeting was that we had a new sheriff,” explained Stevens. “We were going to meet with the new sheriff anyway and then other stuff happened.”
The main focus of the discussion was “how to repair Black and Brown relationships in El Paso County,” said Stevens. At the meeting, the group queried about cultural sensitivity amongst officers, hiring practices, drugs in the jails, and the overall conditions in detainment centers. But, because the “Mallerys came forward,” Stevens said that the group “wanted to know what was being done about the employee of the Mallery’s that had been murdered.”
According to Stevens, Sheriff Roybal told them “that they would reopen the case and they would work that case which they did.” Soon after, the arrest of Chaparro-Macias was announced.
So far, there has been no word of any initiative or collaborative project introduced by EPCSD with the NAACP.
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