Pittsburgh Postmaster Daniel Davis waits for his hearing to begin at the Pittsburgh Municipal Courts Building.
By Paula Reed Ward / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The suspended Pittsburgh postmaster on trial this month on charges of witness intimidation and obstruction said Tuesday he was trained by a federal investigator to open packages looking for illegal drugs and was never told by anyone in authority that what he was doing was wrong.
Daniel Davis, who is not facing federal charges for illegally opening mail, took the stand on his own behalf on the fourth day of his trial before Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David R. Cashman.
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.
He was the first defense witness called and will return to the stand this morning on cross-examination.
Mr. Davis explained that he learned about drug interdiction when he was appointed to serve as the postmaster in Toledo, Ohio, in July 2011. In that area, he said, postal employees were being assaulted and robbed of packages believed to contain drugs.
A member of the Postal Inspection Service for that region taught Mr. Davis and two other managers how to look for packages that might contain illegal contraband. The investigator, whose main office was more than two hours away in Cleveland, told them to look for packages coming from Texas, California, Nevada or Arizona; for packages that contained particularly fragrant substances, like coffee, that might be used to mask the smell to narcotics-sniffing dogs; and to look for packages being sent from vacant or nonexistent addresses.
“The volume of drugs coming into Toledo was so overwhelming, the postal inspectors could not keep coming up there all the time,” Mr. Davis said.
“You didn’t engage in vigilantism, did you?” asked defense attorney Joe Chester.
“No, I was trained by a postal inspector.”
In Toledo, Mr. Davis said he interdicted some 600 packages. When he found one containing contraband, he would contact one of four federal agents in a narcotics task force there and turn the package over.
Mr. Davis testified that he was never told he should not be opening packages without a search warrant.
When Mr. Davis was promoted to serve as postmaster in Pittsburgh in early 2014, he said, he met three area supervisors whose children had died from a heroin overdose. He asked them what policy the Pittsburgh region used for drug interdiction and found there wasn’t one.
So, Mr. Davis continued, he set out to follow the same procedures he followed in Toledo. He told the jury he never opened a package without a witness being present, and although he trained managers under him on what to look for, he never wanted anyone but him to open the packages so as to take away “temptation.”
“There could be $100,000 in there,” he said.
As for the package at the center of the charges against him — a box Mr. Davis’ employees say he opened on Dec. 18, 2014 — Mr. Davis said it was already open when he saw it in the East Liberty post office. He testified that the box must have come open in transit, though had it not, he said he would have opened it anyway because it reeked of coffee.
Inside, he found a large quantity of drugs hidden inside bags of coffee.
Four U.S. Postal Service workers, the alleged victims in the case, said Mr. Davis cut the package open. They also testified that, once Mr. Davis learned there was an investigation into his actions, that he threatened them to say that the package opened in transit.
The witnesses said Mr. Davis told one employee that his postal career would be over, and also threatened physical violence.
Mr. Davis denied all of those allegations.
“Have you ever done anything to besmirch the honor you owe to the United States Postal Service?” Mr. Chester asked.
“No,” Mr. Davis answered.
“Including this case?” the lawyer continued.
Paula Reed Ward: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-2600 or on Twitter: @PaulaReedWard.
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