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Black rancher's beef with El Paso County spills onto capitol steps as supporters gather in protest

This is an image of an African American man dressed in a brown Carhartt jacket and cowboy hat standing near public buildings and a person wearing a bright yellow staff shirt.
Lucas Brady Woods
C.W. Mallery, an El Paso County rancher who has clashed with law enforcement and his neighbors, stands outside of the state capitol building during a rally at the state capitol on February, 17th, 2023

Hundreds of people gathered at the state capitol on Friday to show support for a Black rancher and his wife who have clashed with the local sheriff’s office outside of Colorado Springs.

C.W. Mallery and his wife Nicole were arrested earlier this month on felony stalking charges. In the charging documents, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office described the couple’s quote “disturbing behavior,” which they wrote caused their neighbor to “fear for her safety.”

For their part, the Mallerys claim they’ve endured years of racially motivated attacks on their 1,000-acre property in rural El Paso County, and that law enforcement has done nothing to help them. They say they are being driven off their land for “farming while Black.”

Allies of the Mallerys organized a rally to support them at the state capitol on Friday. Their story struck a chord with the people who came to show their support, including Denver resident Bella Czace. “My father was a Black cowboy and he experienced a ton of racism, so living on ranches was hard for us,” Czace said. “And when I saw what was happening to them, it hit home.”

Marcus Harper was another Denver resident who came to the rally after hearing about the Mallerys on social media. Harper said he felt a personal connection to the story. “My wife and I aspire to own some acreage,” Harper said. “When I saw their story – this could happen to my wife and I. This could be our story. That’s what drove me to come out here today.”

The rancher's narrative

The Mallery’s story has gained social media attention in recent weeks. An article about the couple published in the online outlet Ark Republic in January, alleged that in addition to stolen, mutilated and killed livestock, the couple has personally faced violence, open hostility and domestic terrorism from the surrounding community for no other reason than their race. They’ve explicitly connected their story to the country’s long history of denying Black agricultural producers access to land.

In addition to posting about their plight on social media, the Mallerys started a petition to fire an El Paso County Sheriff’s deputy, accusing him of abusing his power in an attempt to steal their land. They say inaction on the part of the police has led to their animals being killed, the murder of a ranch hand who worked for them and their own lives being threatened. In the same petition, the Mallerys called for the deputy to be charged with hate crimes, and for the state Attorney General to launch an independent investigation.

This is an image of a crowd of people and news cameras lined up outside near the state capitol building in downtown Denver.
Lucas Brady Woods
News crews and a crowd of people gathered at a rally in support of C.W. and Nicole Mallery at the state capitol.

The sheriff's office tells a different story

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Office responded to the Ark Republic article with a statement denying the allegations of racial discrimination in their ranks. They say that over two years, they responded to 170 calls for service involving the Mallerys, and implied that the Mallerys had filed excessive complaints – totaling 19 - against the sheriff’s office.

The sheriff’s office held a press conference last week, where El Paso County Sheriff Joe Roybal called the Mallerys' claims of systemic discrimination on the part of sheriff’s deputies “misinformation.” He said his office has received angry emails and calls from people upset about the Mallerys' case.  “People have threatened damage to our facilities and threatened violence towards my staff - in some cases family members of staff,” Sheriff Roybal said at the press conference.

In addition to the affidavit for the Mallerys' arrest warrant, the Sheriff’s office released 127 pages of police records, documenting dozens of calls for service involving the Mallerys. The documents are an incomplete record of the dealings between the sheriff’s office and the Mallerys, but together, they paint a damning picture of the Mallerys' behavior.

The documents suggest that the Mallerys regularly exaggerated allegations about their neighbors, and frequently acted in bad faith by calling law enforcement over bogus protective order violations against them. The documents suggest the Mallerys were overtly hostile and menacing towards their neighbors and law enforcement. They paint a picture of mutual distrust and dislike between the Mallerys, their neighbors and the sheriff’s office that seemed to grow more intense as the months went on.

"...Until we know the full picture"

The Mallerys have not responded to KUNC’s requests for comment. Their attorney, Tyrone Glover, called the set of documents released by the sheriff’s office “very well curated.” He told KUNC “There’s a lot more. It’s hard to comment on it in a vacuum until we know the full picture.”

The Rocky Mountain NAACP has gotten involved in the case, after the Mallerys contacted them last fall. “This is just classic railroading them off [their land],” President Portia Prescott told KUNC. “Ever since they found out some black people are on that land, they were pissed.”

Denver resident Marcus Harper holds a protest  at a rally to support C.W. and Nicole Mallery at the state capitol.
Lucas Brady Woods
Denver resident Marcus Harper, at a rally to support C.W. and Nicole Mallery at the state capitol.

Prescott says the NAACP is calling for a federal Fair Housing investigation into the matter. She says nothing less than an independent, third-party investigation will do. “This county has a history of discriminating against Blacks,” Prescott said.

The El Paso County Sheriff’s Department also did not respond to KUNC’s request for an interview. They have publicly denied allegations of racial discrimination within the department.

I am the Rural and Small Communities Reporter at KUNC. That means my focus is building relationships and telling stories from under-covered pockets of Colorado.