South Florida's mail carriers say they don't just have to contend with the glaring sun and the threat of dog bites as they go door to door delivering the mail – sometimes they come under physical attack from the people who live along their delivery routes.
The motives range from criminals intent on committing identity fraud to customers' poor anger management to robbery, jealousy and even mentally ill people randomly attacking the mailman or mailwoman, according to court records.
Letter carriers said they have noticed an increase in such attacks in recent years. The U.S. Postal Service said it does not keep statistics on such crimes but trains workers on how to stay safe and pursues criminal charges against offenders.
Assaulting postal employees can have serious consequences – it is a federal crime that is prosecuted under the same law as assaulting an FBI agent. Attacking a federal employee while they're carrying out their duties carries punishments that range from one to 20 years in prison.
Ivan Ramirez, a U.S. Postal Inspector in Miramar, said the downturn in the economy and the prevalence of identity thiefs, who sometimes target letter carriers because they want to rob master keys that open community mail boxes, have coincided with more attacks on carriers.
"We have more brazen offenders approaching letter carriers and even threatening them or assaulting them,' Ramirez said. "A lot of people don't realize that if you mess with a federal employee then it's a federal crime and you could do some serious prison time."
Court records show that at least seven people have faced federal prosecution for assaulting city and injuring letter carriers in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties since 2008. Those numbers don't tell the whole story, officials said, because assailants are also prosecuted for related crimes like fraud or robbery and can also face state charges.
Among the assault cases prosecuted in federal court in recent years, were a father and son from Oakland Park, Donald and Kevin Lincks, now 64 and 31, who were sentenced to a year in prison for beating a postal worker in June 2009 after they asked him to give them their mail on the street but he refused because he did not know them.
A Palm Beach County man, David Jason Agosto, 36, is serving 8 1/2 years in federal prison for assaulting a postal worker who he believed was flirting with Agosto's girlfriend while delivering mail at her workplace, the state Department of Children and Families in Lake Worth in 2008.
In federal court in West Palm Beach last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Dave Lee Brannon praised prosecutors for their evenhanded approach to a complicated case involving a mentally ill woman who investigators said attacked a letter carrier delivering mail in Lantana in September.
Mailman Bruce Tabano, 60, suffered a concussion, chipped tooth and facial cuts when Donna Rose Angelo, 49, attacked him at his work truck near North Ridge Drive and Flamingo Drive, according to the complaint.
Tabano told investigators Angelo told him to give her the mail, punched him in the face, then came at him again in an aggressive manner.
"The carrier then reached for his dog spray and heard the woman say 'If you spray me, I'll f---ing kill you, I'm crazy,'" postal inspectors wrote.
Angelo, who has a history of violent disturbances, told police that she did not understand when they read her legal rights to her, tried to run off and said she didn't mean to hit the mailman, investigators said.
Her diagnosis was not made public but her lawyer said Angelo would pursue an insanity defense if formal charges are filed. Experts said she is mentally incompetent and she has spent months in a federal medical prison in Texas.
Prosecutor John McMillan told the judge Wednesday that efforts to restore her to competency have failed. Brannon ordered that she be assessed to see if she poses a danger to the community before deciding what to do next.
"These are not easy cases, these are not easy issues," Judge Brannon said, adding that he felt prosecutors were looking out for the best interests of the victim, suspect and community.
Mike Gill, the president of Branch 1071 of the National Association of Letter Carriers which represents workers in Miami-Dade, southern Palm Beach and most of Broward, said his members have reported an increase, though not a dramatic one, in assa. Some of that appears to be linked to the rise in identity theft and thieves looking for the master keys that open mailboxes, he said.
Three men are serving lengthy federal prison terms for their roles in the December 2010 murder of postal worker Bruce Parton, 60, of Pembroke Pines who was fatally shot while being robbed of a master key in north Miami-Dade.
"It's definitely been more of an issue in recent years and we warn our members that if something doesn't feel right, they should get out of the area and involve their supervisor and the police," Gill said.
Just as mail carriers look out for their customers, alerting authorities when they notice something suspicious, Gill said he hopes people in the community look out for the safety on postal service employees. "Letter carriers are out there six days a week and we try to be the eyes and ears for the community."
Ramirez, the postal inspector who investigates crimes, said postal service has increased its investigative efforts in recent years and introduced programs to make sure employees are looking out for their personal safety.
Debbie Fetterly, a U.S. Postal Service spokeswoman in South Florida, said employee safety is a priority.
"USPS always tells employees that they are our most valuable resource and that we want to deliver them home safely each day," Fetterly said. Safeguards include special training and awareness programs as well as having a threat assessment team that evaluates and takes action on serious threats made to employees, she said.
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