A Berkeley mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service has been charged with entering a South Berkeley man’s home without permission in January, according to court papers obtained by Berkeleyside.
The mail carrier, LaMonte Earnest, and his wife Kate Hallinan, who is a defense attorney, have said Earnest was “just doing his job” and is guilty only of “delivering while black.”
Earnest has been charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office with a misdemeanor and is set to enter a plea in the case next week. He is also set to appear in San Mateo County Superior Court on Tuesday, according to court records online, to be arraigned for a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty after pepper-spraying a dog through a mail slot in 2015.
According to Berkeley police, on Jan. 26, Earnest threatened and cursed at a man who asked him not to throw his packages, then chased him down Sacramento Street, “kicked his door open and started to take photos” of the man, telling him: “I know who you are mother fucker. You better hide and never come out.”
After Berkeleyside reported on the allegations against Earnest, as well as Earnest’s own contention that he is facing false accusations, numerous Berkeley residents emailed Berkeleyside to share details about their own unpleasant interactions with Earnest. Those reports have continued to come into Berkeleyside, as recently as Thursday.
Ultimately, approximately 10 people emailed or called Berkeleyside to say they had experienced similar issues with Earnest as those described by the man on Sacramento Street. They all asked not to be named because they said they are afraid of Earnest, who knows their addresses, lives in West Berkeley and has acted so erratically, according to their reports. Multiple people — who provided specific details about their interactions with Earnest, but asked that no identifiable details be included out of safety concerns — described him as threatening and hostile.
The episodes had similar themes: Individuals asked Earnest about aspects of their mail delivery and were met with immediate accusations or insinuations of racism, community members told Berkeleyside. Many described positive relationships with other Berkeley mail carriers over the years and expressed sympathy for the demands of the job.
One Berkeley resident is in the process of filing a federal tort claim against Earnest and the U.S. Postal Service alleging improper conduct.
A longtime Berkeley business owner said Earnest recently banged on her unlocked shop door with a package to deliver.
“I was helping other customers at the time so I gestured for him to please come in. He yelled back that we wouldn’t let him in because we thought he was a black man begging for money,” the shop owner told Berkeleyside. “I ignored that comment and asked if he was here to pick up the outgoing mail. He scowled and shoved the delivery at me saying, no, we were lucky to get anything at all.”
Others said they weren’t surprised to read about the Sacramento Street confrontation, as it mirrored their own experiences.
“The minute I heard about the incident on Sacramento — without reading a physical description — I knew it had to be him,” one person wrote. “He has been extremely aggressive and nonverbally threatening in his interactions with people on his route. Throwing packages is not an anomaly for him, it’s how he delivers our mail.”
The resident continued, “It has been a problem but, to be honest, I’ve been too intimidated by him to say anything. When I would see him, I would always smile and greet him only for him to respond with a scowl and a remark under his breath.”
One Berkeley resident said Earnest yelled at her repeatedly after she thanked him for a delivery.
“It’s not good to have the person who delivers your mail not like you,” she said.
Another local resident said he was met with a lengthy rant when he asked Earnest about missing mail.
“He’s on a hairpin trigger,” the resident said. “And once he gets started he can’t stop himself.”
Another person, who asked Earnest if he had any mail for him, said Earnest replied, “I don’t have to talk to you.”
“Why not?” the resident asked him. “He says, ‘I don’t like white people.”
The man said Earnest has also called him and a friend “white trash” and “crackers,” which they understood to be a slur against white people.
Two people did write to Berkeleyside to describe positive interactions with Earnest. One wrote that, after her mother had surgery and couldn’t walk, “he would ring the door bell and made sure she received her mail.” She said she hopes he comes back to work soon, adding, “we miss seeing him in the community.”
A number of others also posted in support of Earnest, speaking positively of his demeanor and work, on private social network Nextdoor. (Nextdoor does not allow posts to be shared publicly or quoted without permission.)
Many of the people who told their stories to Berkeleyside said they did not make official complaints to the post office about him despite ongoing stress and anxiety about the interactions. Most who tried to make complaints said it had been difficult or impossible to get through to anyone at the U.S. Postal Service. One woman who sent emails to the USPS about her problems with the mail carrier said she received confirmation the emails had been received, but there was little response beyond that. Another described calling the USPS to make a complaint and being on hold for 40 minutes before giving up.
Many said they contacted Berkeleyside because so many commenters had expressed doubts about the veracity of Berkeleyside’s reporting and the account of the Sacramento Street resident.
“The victim’s probably not getting a fair shake,” one said.
Police sought and received an emergency protective order to keep Earnest away from the Sacramento Street resident’s home after hearing his account of the exchange the two men had. But it didn’t stop the resident from being threatened.
According to court papers, a stranger “came up and started to harass the victim about calling the police and getting … Earnest arrested.” The incident took place while a police officer was explaining the protective order to the resident on Sacramento Street. “The victim is incredibly fearful for his safety,” police wrote.
The Sacramento Street resident is not named in court papers, although Earnest and his wife named the man when they released a statement in January to describe their version of events. He told Berkeleyside on Monday that an investigator for Earnest’s defense attorney had shown up at his door Sunday. She said she wanted to talk with him about “how we can resolve this,” he said. It was creepy, he added, and he declined to discuss the case with her.
Earnest was charged by the Alameda County district attorney’s office Feb. 25 with entering a residence without permission when someone is home, according to court papers. The state Penal Code says the charge is also called “aggravated trespass” and is “punishable by imprisonment in a county jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than one thousand dollars ($1,000), or by both that fine and imprisonment.”
According to the Penal Code, if found guilty, the court could put Earnest on probation for up to three years and issue a restraining order, for up to three years, to keep him away from the home on Sacramento Street: “In determining the length of the restraining order, the court shall consider, among other factors, the seriousness of the facts before the court, the probability of future violations, and the safety of the victim and his or her immediate family.”
Earnest is set to enter a plea in the Berkeley case March 11 at 8:30 a.m. at Wiley Manuel Courthouse in downtown Oakland, according to court records online. He is not in custody.
According to Earnest and his wife, Earnest has no criminal record. Earnest, who is a U.S. Coast Guard veteran, wants to “clear his good name and restore his reputation which has been so terribly maligned,” the couple said in a prepared statement in January.
Earnest remains on unpaid leave from his job with the USPS, where he has worked for more than 11 years, USPS spokesman Augustine Ruiz said last week. Earnest was transferred to the Bay-Valley District, which includes Berkeley, as a letter carrier on Jan. 9, 2016.
Ruiz said he could not discuss Earnest’s case in particular, as per USPS policy.
“Our rules are to not provide any comment on anything pertaining to personnel matters that is under litigation,” he said.
Speaking generally about how the agency handles employees who face criminal charges, however, he said suspension is one possible outcome.
“Employees are expected to discharge their assigned duties conscientiously and effectively. Employees are also expected to conduct themselves during work hours in a manner that reflects favorably on the Postal Service. USPS requires that postal employees be honest, reliable, trustworthy, courteous and of good character and reputation,” he told Berkeleyside by email. “We may suspend someone who is suspected of a crime. However, any further steps taken are to be in accordance with the applicable rules and regulations, collective bargaining agreement and the unique fact or circumstance of the situation.”
Attempts to reach Hallinan, Earnest’s attorney, prior to publication time were unsuccessful.
Note: The story was updated after publication to include further comment from the U.S. Postal Service.