Postal Updates

USPS letter carriers recall traumatizing attacks while doing their jobs

Apr 3, 2024, 10 AM
USPS letter carrier Ryan Pierani, who was attacked while driving his delivery truck, attended a March 13 rally at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., in support of changes to keep letter carriers safe while performing their duties. Photo by Allen Abel.

Delivering the Mail by Allen Abel

Ryan Pierani, an Ohioan in a University of North Carolina baseball cap, stood outside the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C., on March 13 and told a Linn’s reporter a woeful, yet alarmingly common, tale.

Two winters ago, Pierani was sitting in his U.S. Postal Service delivery truck in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, enjoying his midday meal, when a young man in a mask and a hoodie aimed the barrel of a gun toward his head.

It was Pierani’s 10th year in the uniform of the USPS, but it was his first armed holdup. The epidemic of brazen hijackings, robberies, shootings and killings that has rampaged in the past half-decade and impacted postal workers in many major cities and rural counties had finally caught up with Pierani.

“When I was delivering pizzas before I went to work for the Postal Service,” Pierani told Linn’s, “I expected to get robbed eventually. But getting robbed while I was delivering the mail was never in my thought process ... ”

Armed robbery might well be in the thought process of many letter carriers now.

Even as the USPS and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service reported on March 12 a 19 percent decrease in attacks over the past five months and the installation of 15,000 “hardened blue boxes” and 28,000 “electronic locking mechanisms installed in mail receptacles,” thousands of carriers like Pierani have no choice but to walk or drive alone and unprotected with checks, gift cards and packages down the same suburban and city streets at the same time every day.

“Violent robbery, assault and even murder has become part of our jobs,” said Brian Renfroe, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers, in describing his members’ plight.

“All I was doing was having lunch,” Pierani said.

“Did they catch the guy who robbed you?” the Linn’s correspondent asked him after the March 13 rally on Capitol Hill in support of appropriating funds to replace more of those antiquated arrow keys with electronic bolts.

“No,” Pierani replied.

According to the Hamilton County, Ohio, Sheriff’s Department, thieves used Pierani’s arrow key to steal, launder and cash more than $200,000 in checks.

Members of both parties in the House of Representatives have come together to pledge their support for a proposed piece of legislation dubbed the Protect Our Letter Carriers Act.

A month after the robbery, Pierani went back to work.

“I couldn’t sit at home,” he said. “At home, I had nothing to do all day but think about it. I felt safer in my truck. But now, if I hear a plastic bag rustling down the street, I think they’re coming back.”

Matt McBee of Southport, Mich., who attended the rally, told an almost identical story. It had been eight years since he quit delivering furniture and began working for the Postal Service when his turn came.

McBee also was sitting in his boxy white USPS vehicle when two men approached and flashed their weapons at him.

“All they wanted was my [arrow] key,” he said.

McBee was lucky — the men never pulled the trigger. As in the Pierani case, no one has been apprehended. Also like Pierani, McBee took a month to settle his nerves and went back to work.

“Having people come up behind me is still a real problem,” McBee said on the Capitol grounds.

The rally came days after another armed robbery made the national news. The details were sadly predictable: A pair of young men drove a silver Camaro into the path of a USPS truck in San Francisco, produced a pistol and commanded the driver, a 31-year USPS veteran, to lie on the floor.

According to court documents, the two men told him, “Don’t move, lay there, I’m going to shoot.”

[Editor’s note: Additional details of the San Francisco robbery were published Feb. 14 on the San Francisco Public Safety News website.]

“As [name redacted] lay on the floor of his postal vehicle,” the transcript said, “he believed that his life was about to end. [Name redacted] thought of his wife and children and bade them a silent goodbye.”

The robbery was just one of many, but the result was quite unusual.

One of the gunmen, Leroy Wise, was found hiding with three handguns in a closet at his girlfriend’s apartment. He was subsequently convicted and given a sentence of 30 days.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Wendy Garbers had asked for a 28-month sentence. “This was obviously a very traumatic experience for the victim,” she said.

The Wise case recently reached the desk of Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who issued a stern statement on March 12.

“It is simply unacceptable that a criminal was sentenced to a mere 30-days for threatening a letter carrier at gunpoint and stealing his personal possessions, as well as both the public’s mail and packages,” DeJoy said. “This sends a concerning message of encouragement to our nation’s criminals and a message of disregard to our loyal public servants, who deserve better protection and reassurance that the law will take crimes against them seriously.”

The judge in the San Francisco case, Charles Breyer, the former chairman of the U.S. Sentencing Commission and the younger brother of retired Justice Stephen Breyer of the U.S. Supreme Court, commented that the sentencing memorandum prepared by public defender Elizabeth Falk, which labeled Wise a “genuinely good person” who had “lost his way,” was “the most convincing memo I’ve seen in 25 years.”

Judge Breyer said he had intended at first to impose no penalty more severe than probation. But he stiffened this to a 30-day term of imprisonment as a “matter of general deterrence.”

“Somebody goes out and commits the type of act that Mr. Wise committed to a postal service employee and I think, as a judge, I have to take that into consideration,” Breyer said in explaining his 30-day sentence for Wise.

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