Trial begins for suspended Pittsburgh postmaster accused of threats
January 5, 2017 12:00 AM
Suspended Pittsburgh postmaster Daniel Davis.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The defense attorney presented suspended Pittsburgh postmaster Daniel Davis as a crusader seeking justice by sniffing out illegal drugs and cash being sent through the U.S. mail.
The prosecutor presented him as a bully who knew that what he was doing was illegal and threatened those who stood in his way.
The jury hearing the case against Mr. Davis in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court will have to decide which story to believe as his trial began Wednesday.
Mr. Davis, 51, of Canonsburg, is charged with four counts each of witness intimidation, coercion and official oppression, as well as one count of obstruction for his actions as the Pittsburgh postmaster between February and December 2014.
Mr. Davis is not charged with the federal crime of opening other people’s mail, which defense attorney Joseph Chester made a point of early in the trial before Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman.
During his opening, Mr. Chester told the jurors that his client was a native American who grew up in Alaska. He served for 14 years in the Marine Corps before working his way up through the Postal Service, starting out as a carrier before ultimately becoming the postmaster in Toledo, Ohio, for two years and then Pittsburgh.
His “untarnished, honorable dedication to public service,” Mr. Chester said, has been “besmirched by these charges.”
Mr. Chester explained that while serving as postmaster in Toledo, Mr. Davis was trained to interdict drugs and other illegal packages by U.S. Postal Inspectors there, and that he worked closely with the Toledo police drug task force.
In Toledo, the attorney continued, Mr. Davis intercepted more than 600 packages he believed to be suspicious. That included 3,500 pounds of marijuana, 8 pounds of opiates, methamphetamine, cocaine and more than $400,000 in currency.
No charges were ever filed against Mr. Davis in Toledo. Then, when he was moved to the Pittsburgh office, Mr. Chester continued, his client continued the same work, interdicting about 100 pieces of mail in various post offices around the region. They included Mount Oliver, Swissvale, East Liberty and McKeesport.
“This whole thing makes little or no sense, at all,” Mr. Chester said.
But assistant district attorney Brian Catanzarite told the jury in his opening that no matter a postal employee’s position, it is illegal to open any piece of mail without a federal search warrant.
Mr. Davis, he said, would pick out packages he considered to be suspicious and shake them, smell them, and even poke them with a pen and smell the contents to see if it might be an illegal substance.
“Sometimes, he just opened them right up,” Mr. Catanzarite said. “And that is against the law.”
But it was once the federal Office of the Inspector General began investigating that, Mr. Catanzarite said, Mr. Davis committed the state crimes for which he is now standing trial.
He told employees under him, “’You better not tell them anything.’”
He threatened them with their jobs and with physical violence, the prosecutor continued. And he told them to lie to federal investigators.
“Mr. Davis abused his position as postmaster.”
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.
To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to
email@example.com and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner.