In the second day of Vely versus Brown in Judge Patrick Murphy’s District 11 Court, a dozen witnesses testified for both the plaintiffs and defendant. Plaintiffs in the case, Chris Vely and Laura Barton, filed a noise nuisance claim against neighbor Alison Brown.
That claim was balanced with a counterclaim by Brown that the Velys’ tactics were defamatory to her fox hunt club, Headwaters Hounds LLC, and to her personally. The two legal claims were addressed by both parties in a series of examination and cross-examination that stretched past 5 p.m.
Lawyer for the plaintiffs, Randy Herrick-Stare, called a mix of friends ‒ people who had known Vely and Barton when they lived in Pennsylvania, neighbors currently living near them, friends who had signed their Change.org petition against Brown, Chaffee County Planning Manager Jon Roorda, rancher Joseph Cogan, a man from Franktown who met the Velys while they were looking to buy land in Chaffee County, and the woman who named Antelope Road and built the house the Velys now own. Herrick-Stare spent extensive time reviewing the noise videos made by Vely and Barton and discussing the effects of noise with witnesses.
Called by the plaintiffs, rancher Joseph Cogan provided a perspective on what it’s like to be a Chaffee County rancher, trying to protect his land and his cattle, that might not have been what Herrick-Stare expected. Cogan, who has given Headwaters Hounds permission to hunt his 3,000-acre ranch, re-enforced Brown’s description of predator control.
“One coyote alone – they eat mice. But packs – I’ve had the coyote packs harass the cattle ferociously – a bunch of four to five coyotes are something to behold. Ranch dogs find that out – they get away from the ranch and the coyote packs go after them. Yes I gave her permission to hunt, to cut down predation. A pack of coyotes can run a herd through a fence.”
Asked how long the predators stay away, he chuckled, “Only the coyotes know that, sir.”
Vely and Barton’s friends testified to their growing frustration with the noise and expressed concerns about the alleged cubbing, both of which prompted them to sign the petition against Brown. All but one professed they didn’t know the claims made were untrue and saw no reason to question their validity.
Lawyers for Brown, Charlie Cain and Taylor Romano, discounted the validity of the noise claims and addressed the timing of the Velys’ actions. Within six months of moving to a property that they professed to have visited eight times prior to purchase, the Velys filed suit against Brown for financial damages, even though they had conducted their own noise tests on Brown’s kennels prior to purchasing their property.
June 1, 2016 – Vely and Barton buy 11444 Antelope Road.
June 20, 2016 – Vely and Barton move to 11444 Antelope Road.
August 15, 2016 – Vely and Barton begin complaints to Chaffee County.
August 25, 2016 – Vely and Brown exchange emails about noise solutions.
Nov. 25, 2016 – Vely files a Change.org petition.
Nov. 28, 2016 – Chris Vely hands out fliers about the petition at the Salida Parade of Lights.
Dec. 21, 2016 – Chris Vely and Laura Barton file suits against Alison Brown.
Witnesses were questioned about the Change.org petition, created and published by Chris Vely, which inaccurately declared that the term “cubbing” described animal cruelty and torture being perpetrated by Brown and Headwaters Hounds. Vely said he went to the internet to research the term, and ended up linking to a website in the United Kingdom that deplored it. He never asked Brown about it, nor checked any resource in the United States. He said he didn’t think to check if rules are different from one country to another or to confirm Colorado statutes.
Witness Sandra Engelbrecht, a friend of Barton, said she saw the petition. “There was quite a buzz around town about it that winter, you know.” As a former teacher she said she researched it. “There was a name and contact info on the Headwaters Hounds website, it was linked to the petition. So I just emailed her and asked. I like to do my research about things.”
She said Brown responded, explaining that the definition of cubbing as practiced by Headwaters Hounds was completely different and did not involve killing animals; in fact, Brown told her she hunts coyotes as predator control, never foxes.*
After being the subject of hate messages, Brown said Headwaters Hounds had issued an explanation of cubbing on its website, explaining it retained the term, but that it now meant getting young hounds out on the trails in training, getting them accustomed to moving with the pack and following signals. Vely said in January he added a link to Headwaters Hounds to his Change.org petition, which exposed Brown’s name and contact information around the world.
Herrick-Stare objected as irrelevant when Romero sought to establish that Laura Barton, a graphic designer, had a prior business relationship with Brown and had, in fact, designed the logos and graphics for the Headwaters Hounds foxhunting club.
Herrick-Stare also objected to Romero’s efforts to establish that Vely and Barton had attended hunt club balls and that, moving to Chaffee County from Pennsylvania hunting country, they are well-versed in foxhunting. Murphy overruled, saying that the information was indeed relevant to the proceedings.
In an attempt to counter the noise allegations, Brown arranged for a sound study to be conducted that met Colorado standards and was performed in January 2018. Vely declared under oath that on Jan. 22, 2018, before the sound study, he counted the dogs in Brown’s kennels, declaring that Brown had reduced the number of hounds, which would account for a variance between the sound study results.
Cain challenged him asking “Are you aware there was a Colorado Springs detective from the Colorado Springs police on site during the sound study who can verify this?”
In addition to creating doubt about the noise claims, including that the readings being used against them were not done according to the state’s sound measurement procedures, Romero and Cain focused on the defamatory nature of the petition. Created four days after the county issued a building permit to Brown to construct her residence on the property, its content shifted from Vely’s stated purpose.
Vely said, “I started it to get rid of foxhunting and kennels in Chaffee County, to get rid of the noise.” He said that, following the county’s decision to issue a building permit and because he wanted a reaction from the county, he created the petition. “I wanted to shut down a foxhunting club for the abhorrent practice of cubbing, and I wanted to stop the noise.”
He was asked if, following the link of the Change.org petition to Headwaters Hounds, which garnered hate messages directed at Brown, he thought it was his right to defame a person. “I didn’t think I defamed anybody.”
Brent Smith said he signed the petition because “it just didn’t seem right,” but couldn’t explain further.
“What didn’t seem right? Do you mean correct, or morally right?” asked Murphy.
“It’s both … the whole thing wasn’t right. I didn’t know if it was something that was actually happening, but I didn’t like the content being described,” answered Smith.
Neighbor Debra Mahoney signed the petition. Asked if she thought the claims were true, she said, “Well, yes. Isn’t that how foxhunting is done? I’ve read about it in other places. They didn’t tell me the allegations in the petition are false. It’s my understanding that that is how they train.”
*Correction: Ark Valley Voice erroneously reported that Sandra Engelbrecht had signed the change.org petition created by Chris Vely regarding the practice of cubbing. In fact after getting information from Alison Brown, she declined to sign the petition. Ark Valley Voice apologize for the error. If at any time you see an inaccuracy in one of our stories we want to know so that we can correct it.