A group of around 20 people gathered along the roadside in Bailey on May 1 to protest a racially-charged attack on students from Community College of Aurora, who were harassed on the way to a family member’s cabin March 18 in Bailey.
Holding signs with phrases like “Black Lives Matter” and “Yes! This was a hate crime,” the group shouted and waved to honking cars to raise awareness of the situation and how it was handled.
The Park County Sheriff’s Office, according to a statement made on the department’s Facebook page, submitted the statements about the incident to the Park County District Attorney’s Office, which did not deem the incident to be a hate crime.
Those who gathered believe this to be a mistake.
According to redacted witness statements, the CCA students were on their way up to Malarie-Stafford Mustacchio’s grandmother’s cabin when their vehicles got stuck in a private drive. The apparent owner of the property came out and began to question the students and made racist remarks toward the Black driver of one vehicle. That is when things became violent between one student and the property owner.
“He tackled me and my back hit the car, then he ripped my jacket and shirt, then grabbed my throat with his hand while saying, ‘I’ll f— kill you,’” said the victim in a redacted statement.
Soon after, another man came down the drive with what appeared to be an assault rifle, according to the statement. The two men continued to assault the student while the other students were on the phone with the police. According to call logs, it took over 30 minutes for help to arrive.
Debbie Stafford, grandmother of the victim, owner of the cabin and former Colorado state representative, attended the protest in Bailey on May 1 to show support for her granddaughter. She believes the assault should be classified as a hate crime.
“Last year — and I have found this out through this process — the Colorado General Assembly through Senate Bill 21-280 changed hate crime statutes: ‘in whole or in part,’” she said.
The bill Stafford is referring to changes the language of the current law so that a hate crime perpetrator can be held accountable even if they have more than one motivation in committing the crime, as long as they are motivated “in whole or in part” because of that person’s actual or perceived race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, physical or mental disability or sexual orientation.
Students and residents from Wheat Ridge, Denver and other communities in the foothills joined Bailey residents at the gathering May 1.
Nicki Weist grew up in Evergreen but now lives in Denver. They are a student at Community College of Aurora and showed up to support their fellow students.
“I’m just here to support and show up,” they said. “These are the people I walk the halls with.”
Weist was one of many in the group who joined in chants for Black Lives and waved flags and signs supporting the victims.
Kelly Brown is with Evergreen Coalition for Racial Justice. She said the group’s goal is to support the victims’ families however they can.
“Our main goal is to support them in what they need, and what they’ve asked for is that the Park County DA file hate crime charges, and also that the Sheriff’s Office and the Park County DA get more training, DEI training and training on hate crimes,” Brown said.
Stafford said something like this could happen to anyone.
“This could be anybody’s family or loved one,” she said. “And if we don’t come together and stand up to protect each other, who’s gonna do it?”