In Santa Monica, California, last April, the U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery to one city block after a customer struck a letter carrier with a broomstick.
Newsweek reported that it was one of three incidents in which letter carriers had been assaulted or threatened by that customer, and that USPS officials took the unusual step of refusing to deliver mail for the safety of their employees.
This April, it’s happened on a street in Stamford that runs along the border with Greenwich.
Like the residents of that block in Santa Monica, people living on East Middle Patent Road in North Stamford now have to drive to the post office to get their mail.
Their longtime letter carrier stopped delivering to their street on Thursday, when an East Middle Patent Road man greeted the carrier wearing a black ski mask and pointing a gun.
The mail carrier sped away and called Stamford police, who sent multiple officers to 294 East Middle Patent Road at 1:45 p.m. Thursday, Assistant Chief Richard Conklin said.
“Officers set up a perimeter, and saw the suspect running down his driveway. He was taken into custody,” Conklin said. “A pellet gun was found on the ground near the mailbox and seized as evidence.”
Police arrested 33-year-old Robert Fierro, charging him with first-degree threatening and breach of peace, Conklin said.
“The postal worker said the suspect often met him at the mailbox, but that he’s been acting erratically and rambling in recent weeks,” Conklin said. “It turned out to be a pellet gun, but it was very frightening.”
So much so that the letter carrier is not returning to East Middle Patent Road for a time, said David Mickelson, who lives there.
“On Friday I had one thing in my mailbox – a notice from the postmaster that said, ‘Dear postal customer, I would like to inform you about a recent incident and ongoing investigation,’” Mickelson said. “The notice said that mail service to my address will be suspended until further notice.”
Each day since then, between noon and 5 p.m. on weekdays and noon and 2 p.m. on Saturdays, Mickelson and his neighbors must make a trip to the post office on Valley Drive in Greenwich if they want their mail. A good portion of East Middle Patent Road is in Stamford, but it runs so closely along the Greenwich border that mail is delivered from a post office in that town.
On Monday, Mickelson said, “I picked up my mail at the post office and asked a clerk if it was true that a mailman was held up, and he nodded yes. I imagine it’s scary to be a mailman and have that happen.”
It is, said a postal worker who could not be identified because USPS prohibits employees from speaking to the press.
Safety has “become a big issue across the country, and the postal service is trying to put protocols in place to protect us,” the worker said.
There has been an escalating number of incidents in which letter carriers are robbed of mail by thieves looking for envelopes containing checks, which they wash with chemicals to remove the ink. They then change the name of the payee and the dollar amount, and fraudulently deposit the stolen check using an ATM.
Thieves also rob postal workers of keys used to open the navy-blue USPS mailboxes.
In December, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service announced a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in letter-carrier robberies last year in Stamford, Greenwich, Waterbury, Middletown, West Haven and Hartford.
The postal worker said USPS officials tell letter carriers that if they come face to face with an assailant, “don’t resist; call 911 immediately, because the most important thing at that point in time is you.”
That’s just what the East Middle Patent Road letter carrier did, Conklin said. The carrier’s reluctance to return to that part of his route is understandable, the assistant chief said.
Thursday evening, after Fierro was released, “he made a series of calls ranting to the police dispatch center. He felt his license was taken from him when he was in lockup at headquarters. Officers looked for his license but didn’t find it,” Conklin said.
About 9 p.m. officers returned to Fierro’s home, Conklin said.
“He was acting manic, very emotional, wearing boxer shorts and shoes. He had things written on his chest in magic marker,” Conklin said. “A referral was made to our Behavioral Health Unit. We have our own unit with clinicians embedded with police officers. They often respond to these types of calls. They see if they can set up medical or psychological follow-up for the suspect.”
Fierro has an April 20 court date, Conklin said.
The Greenwich Police Department received so many inquiries that Capt. Mark Zuccerella Monday posted a statement saying that the Stamford incident is “not related to the area-wide problem of mail theft.”
A call Monday to Greenwich Postmaster Kin Neil was not returned.
Paul Smith from a U.S. Postal Inspection Service office in Philadelphia emailed a statement saying, “Due to a safety issue we have temporarily suspended delivery to a small portion of one route in Greenwich. This affects 30 customers who were immediately notified by their local postmaster. We will continue to make arrangements with the customers to ensure they can receive their mail.”
Mickelson said not having mail delivery is “an inconvenience but certainly not the end of the world.”
He’s concerned about the letter carrier.
“When I was at the post office I asked the clerk, ‘Is our mailman going to come back?’” Mickelson said. “He said he will, eventually.”