On March 18, Malarie Stafford-Mustacchio invited four other Community College of Aurora students to join her at her grandmother’s cabin in Bailey to shoot a film for their class. But before they had a chance to capture any movie footage, they got caught in a real-life drama.
When they were almost at the cabin, one car got stuck in the snow on the ironically named Stucke Road; the driver and his passenger, both white males, were able to extricate their vehicle. But when another car got stuck in the same spot, a neighbor — Stafford-Mustacchio didn’t know him, but later learned that his name is Jon Spencer — confronted the Black driver and his passenger, yelling at them to get off his land.
Stafford-Mustacchio and the two students who’d already reached the cabin tried to intervene, explaining that they would all leave as soon as they could get the car moving. But Spencer wasn’t satisfied, they say. “He went into the [car] window and he started yelling at her…and he was like pointing at her, or touching her chest and shoulder, and was like, ‘You’re a dumb Black bitch. That’s why you can’t drive,’” Stafford-Mustacchio recalls.
When one of the male students told the man not to touch the driver, Spencer grabbed him and began choking him, threatening to kill him, Stafford-Mustacchio says. She and the other male student pulled Spencer off their classmate, sustaining injuries in the process.
Then another man started walking up the road toward them, holding what looked like an assault rifle. “I screamed to everybody that he had a gun and to run, and so we started to run away,” Stafford-Mustacchio says. By now, the passenger in the stuck car had called 911 and handed the phone to her. “I told the police over the phone, ‘He has a gun, he has a gun,’” Stafford-Mustacchio recalls.
At this point, Spencer started hitting the classmate who’d come to the driver’s defense, and the other man joined in. “I’m gonna go fuck up your friend,” she says he told her.
Eventually, the students all made it to the cabin; the sheriff’s department still hadn’t arrived at the scene. According to 911 and radio-activity records obtained through a CORA request, Stafford-Mustacchio was on the phone with dispatch for twenty minutes before being disconnected. She called back and was on the phone for another six minutes before dispatch said that deputies were close and hung up. Ten minutes later, when the deputies still hadn’t arrived, Stafford-Mustacchio called back. Ultimately, at least 36 minutes passed between the initial call and the time that help arrived.
That’s just one of the problems with how the Park County Sheriff’s Office mishandled the situation, says Stafford-Mustacchio, her family and her colleagues.
Her family includes grandmother Debbie Stafford, a former Colorado state representative, an ordained pastor and legislative director for the Aurora Mental Health Center. She’s had the cabin in Bailey for eighteen years.
Stafford-Mustacchio called her mother, Becky Mustacchio, shortly after the first call to 911. Mustacchio immediately started driving to the cabin from Aurora, talking to her daughter much of the way. She lost cell service before authorities arrived.
When two Park County Sheriff’s Office deputies got to the cabin, they yelled at the students to come out with their hands up, Stafford-Mustacchio says, then checked for weapons. There weren’t any. “At first they were very aggressive, which I thought was kind of weird, since we were the ones that called,” she recalls. “Also, they were just making jokes.”
When they asked the male student who’d been beaten if he needed medical attention, he said he wasn’t sure and asked for more information. The female deputy then spoke into her radio, saying he’d refused medical attention, Stafford-Mustacchio says.
He told the deputy that he wasn’t refusing but was confused, which Stafford-Mustacchio attributes to a possible concussion. The deputy again spoke into her radio, saying he’d changed his mind.
Stafford-Mustacchio’s account is supported by the call logs. After the back-and-forth regarding medical attention, the dispatcher said she was “thoroughly confused” about what was going on.
Stafford-Mustacchio was confused, too. The deputies asked the students if they would come back to Bailey the next day so they could make statements; the deputies said they didn’t have the proper forms on them. One of the deputies didn’t have a notepad, either, and borrowed the other deputy’s at one point. The students ended up submitting written statements the next morning to avoid having to drive back to Park County.
The deputies didn’t arrest either neighbor at the scene, despite visible injuries to both of the male students and Stafford-Mustacchio; she says the two seemed intoxicated. “They said they talked to the first man who started the attack and didn’t arrest him because he had his wife and baby outside waiting in the cold…[and] they didn’t want to cause a domestic-violence situation, so they decided to not arrest him,” she recalls. “They didn’t talk to the other man who had the gun because they didn’t want to start anything or have any dangerous situations happening at night when they can’t see anything.”
By that time, Mustacchio had arrived; she says when she pressed the deputies about making an arrest, they said that they would come back with a warrant. The deputies did not ask either man to take a breathalyzer test. When Mustacchio asked why, a deputy told her that he was obviously drunk, so that his blood alcohol level didn’t matter.
After the deputies left, Mustacchio and Stafford-Mustacchio took the student who seemed to have a concussion to the hospital. Stafford, who’d been alerted by her relatives, called the Park County Sheriff’s Office to say that the deputies’ handling of the events was unacceptable. She says she was connected with a supervisor who agreed and told her that one of the deputies was a rookie.
Spencer was arrested on March 19 and released on a cash bond; he’s scheduled to appear in district court for a pre-trial conference on April 26. He has not yet been charged. Through his attorney, he declined to comment.
Three of the students also declined to talk about the incident with Westword, saying they were too traumatized. One student corroborated Stafford-Mustacchio’s account but asked to remain anonymous. The Park County Sheriff’s Office declined to comment on the case, instead directing Westword to the 11th Judicial District Attorney’s Office, which said it will not discuss the matter.
Park County Sheriff Tom McGraw made a call to the Stafford family the day after the incident, and Westword was able to listen to a recording of it. On the call, made after Spencer’s arrest, McGraw seemed to justify not charging the second man by saying there wasn’t enough in the students’ statements to indicate that he did anything other than point a gun in their direction. In one statement, a student said that “the man with the AR continues to throw punches.” Another three said that he was beating up their friend. And the student who was beaten wrote: “The second man was able to connect two or three strong hits to the back of my head. I yelled for help. The two men both were punching and kicking me, targeting my head.”
McGraw told the family that both men admitted to being part of the conflict. “It sounds like at least the neighbor who started this thing last night should have gone to jail last night,” he said. “The issue of them not arresting the person that night, that is something that I’m going to do from…an internal side, and I’m going to review everything that was done, and then we will make a determination of what we will do against those deputies.”
When the family wondered why there had been no hate-crime charge, McGraw said he was looking into it and asked if Spencer had used the N-word.
Stafford-Mustacchio told McGraw that Spencer had said to the driver, ‘“You’re a dumb Black bitch, that’s why you can’t drive, because you’re Black’; then he put his whole head in the car and tapped on his chest and shoulder, repeating ‘dumb Black bitch.'”
Stafford, who often works with law enforcement, says she’s concerned that any official could think that the N-word must be used in order for an incident to qualify as a hate crime. Park County is 94.4 percent white, according to the US Census Bureau, and less than 1 percent Black. Stafford points out that Spencer only confronted the Black student, not the two white males who got stuck. And she wonders why law enforcement officials didn’t help the people who did everything right, instead just traumatizing them more.
When she arrived at the cabin, Mustacchio says, it was obvious that the students were terrified.
“They were in disbelief,” she adds. “They couldn’t even understand why that happened or, you know, why people would act like that. … They’re very disappointed and very confused as to why they’re being treated like they did something wrong, and why no one’s being held accountable for what happened to them.”
When she was growing up, Stafford-Mustacchio would often go to her grandmother’s cabin in the summer, and she has many fond memories of the place from the past eighteen years. Now she’s worried that she won’t enjoy going there anymore.
“The other day, [Stafford] had to go bring some stuff up there, and she was going to go alone,” she says. “I didn’t feel comfortable with her doing that.”