Amid defamation case, new sexual assault allegation surfaces against Jeff Leach

TERLINGUA — Another woman has come forward with sexual assault allegations against Jeff Leach, a prominent Terlingua man and founder of Basecamp Terlingua.

All together, that now makes at least five women who have accused Leach of a variety of offenses ranging from threats to rape. Katy Milam, a former Basecamp employee, told police in July that Leach had allegedly pinned her down and told her “he gets what he wants.” Leach filed a defamation suit against her in September. And then two more women gave affidavits accusing him of sexual assault and rape, as The Big Bend Sentinel first reported.

A fourth woman also received a restraining order in 2017 after Leach allegedly threatened her, as The Big Bend Sentinel previously reported. That woman has not responded to multiple requests for comment, but court documents filed in December offered context.

Leach was arrested in 2015 after the woman called authorities to say she’d had an “altercation” with Leach and was “worried he will come back,” according to a report from the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office. He allegedly “went off on [the woman] for no apparent reason,” “began throwing things around the house,” “grabbed her and shoved her around” and then left, the report states.

The latest affidavit, filed on Sunday night, is from a woman who says she met Leach in Terlingua in 2014, shortly after he moved to the desert community. She later worked with Leach on business projects. That woman asked The Big Bend Sentinel not to identify her in our story, and we have redacted some details to protect her privacy.

In summer of 2017, the woman states Leach allegedly sexually assaulted her. “I had to fight him off to get him to stop,” she states. “This sexual contact was non-consensual.”

A couple weeks later, the woman and Leach got into an argument at her house. Outside, Leach allegedly “threw his glass into the night” and “knocked some things off of a table,” and the woman “ran out into the desert and hid in the bushes.” Leach got some clothes from inside and left, according to her affidavit.

I stayed hidden in the desert for a while after Jeff left,” the woman states. “I remember feeling like it was over, and I was relieved.” After the woman stopped working with Leach, he at least twice “threatened me with litigation,” she states.

This woman’s affidavit, as well as two others made against Leach last year, have surfaced in court during Leach’s ongoing defamation lawsuit against Milam, the former Basecamp employee who also goes by Schwartz in court filings. The multiple allegations demonstrate his “propensity to assault women,” Milam’s lawyers, Jodi Cole and Liz Rogers, argued in a motion last year.

The case has continued for almost five months and is now on its third judge. The first, Roy Ferguson, recused himself last year. He was the judge who granted a woman a restraining order against Leach in 2017. 

Next was Judge Thomas Spieczny. Leach’s lawyers, Rae Leifeste and Christopher Flores, objected to him on December 24, before his first hearing. The court filings do not explain the lawyers’ reasoning, and one of those lawyers — Christopher Flores — said he and Leifeste have a policy to “not comment on active litigation.”

Next was Judge Stephen Ables. Last month, according to filings from Milam’s lawyers, a hearing was cancelled after Ables was unable to attend.

Around that same time, more stickers with the phrase “Katy lied” showed up at a business in Alpine. Cole and Rogers have previously accused Leach or someone associated with him of distributing the stickers in Terlingua. Flores declined to comment on the stickers, and Leifeste did not respond to a request for comment by press time.

Milam’s lawyers, Jodi Cole and Liz Rogers, have asked judges to dismiss the defamation case. Their argument rests largely on the Texas Citizens Participation Act, a 2011 law that protects people from getting sued for using their legal rights.

Mrs. Schwartz has a protected constitutional right to express what happened to her,” they wrote in one motion to dismiss, from October. “Her communication was by definition a public concern, because it was related to her own, and other women’s, safety.”

At a teleconference on Monday with Judge Ables, Leach’s lawyer Rae Leifeste argued that the case had dragged on for too long and that Cole and Rogers had missed deadlines for filing motions to dismiss the case. “We are beyond the deadline by quite some time,” Leifeste said. “In no event — no event — should a hearing [on dismissal] occur after more than 90 days.”

Leifeste also urged Judge Ables to seal the most recent affidavit against Leach, which he described as “salacious.” But Judge Ables declined to do so, noting: “I’m not too big on sealed pleadings.”

Cole, for her part, argued that the rotating cast of judges — and not missed deadlines — were the main reason the case had dragged on. (A court filing from Cole and Rogers on Tuesday made the same argument, with the lawyers concluding that Leach “is strategically attempting to use litigation to attempt to silence very serious complaints of sexual harassment and assault.”)

In the teleconference, Cole also urged all sides to “de-escalate,” expressing concerns about “safety issues at stake” in the case.

This is new legal territory — but it also crosses into matters that involve trauma and violence,” she argued. “This person [Leach] is a very sick and dangerous individual.”

Back in September, a couple weeks after Leach filed his defamation lawsuit against Milam, he also sued her in small-claims court for around $1,300. That case was scheduled for last Friday morning at the Terlingua Fire & EMS building.

Then, on Thursday afternoon, Leach emailed the judge and one of Milam’s lawyers from a personal email. Attached was a motion apparently dropping the case.

Milam, Rogers and a couple supporters turned up at court Friday morning, just to be sure the case was really over. Leach wasn’t present. Judge Jim Burr dismissed the case with prejudice — meaning Leach can’t make the same claims in court again.