By Shannon Taylor, Associate Editor
The post office located in downtown Dresden is now facing backlash from two residents after a series of incidents resulted in a 9-1-1 call being placed and an attempt by the local postmaster to trespass the residents.
On Aug. 21, Dresden resident Michelle Tjaden said she received a package through USPS from the VA (Veteran’s Affairs) pharmacy in Marion, Illinois. Inside the package contained Class II and Class V controlled-substance medications. Tjaden and her daughter, Brandi George, stated that the medications had been delivered to their address for years and they always had to sign for the packages.
On a recorded phone call with Postal Inspector Darren Riggs, he told George that a “misunderstanding” took place when Tjaden’s package was left with “no one to sign” written in black permanent marker at the top of the package.
Tjaden said she was standing on her porch that day on her phone signaling for the carrier to wait, who spoke with Tjaden, but at the time, Tjaden had no idea that the VA package was placed in her mailbox and signed for by the carrier.
Tjaden said she was giving the carrier a card to have her father’s mail held (who lives across the street) and was told by the carrier that, “this is getting ridiculous,” and “he’s just using us as a free post office box” and that “I can’t see his mailbox, so he needs to move his to the road too.”
The carrier never asked Tjaden to sign for the package, instead telling Tjaden that she was going to leave her father a notice regarding his mailbox, but said she forgot it at the post office.
USPS records showed the package was signed for, but the signature did not match Tjaden’s. Investigation found that the package was scanned into the carrier’s truck Thursday, Aug. 17, but not delivered until Aug. 21. Further investigation revealed that the mail carrier had illegibly signed for it and typed Tjaden’s name in the box below the signature. The package was taken to the Dresden post office where the matter then escalated.
Tjaden and George explained to Dresden’s new postmaster, Daphne Richmond, who started in the position on July 29 this year, about the alleged forgery of Tjaden’s signature and they were told that the mail carrier was following expired COVID guidelines and that the carrier was told not to sign Tjaden’s signature again.
Richmond refused to provide the expired COVID guidelines showing that a mail carrier could sign someone’s name. Richmond’s direct supervisor, Justin Holt told George on a recorded phone call that COVID guidelines required the carrier to write “COVID” on the line and the carrier’s own name. They then asked Richmond how to file a formal complaint and were told that they would “have to contact Congress” about that.
Tjaden and George were then told that they would need to move their hardship mailbox from their home and put a box up by their road. George and Tjaden explained to Richmond that they were 100-percent permanently and totally-disabled veterans. The pair said they were told by Richmond that “you walked into the post office and drove to get here, so you are not disabled and I will not approve the hardship request.”
Tjaden and George then asked for the policy regarding the hardship and removal of the mailbox and were refused any documentation, with Richmond providing a number for USPS customer service instead. They were then told by Richmond to leave and never come back. George said she tried to call the number she was given and while she was on hold, Richmond called 9-1-1, telling dispatch, “there are two customers here that have been very disrespectful and will not leave. I just need them to be gone,” according to the 9-1-1 call log.
Richmond went on to say that Tjaden and George were loud and belligerent in front of customers. Richmond can be heard on the phone telling Tjaden and George that they need to be removed because they weren’t listening.
“Y’all are not welcome back to the post office. I’m going to be calling the postal inspector and telling him how y’all are. Y’all won’t be coming back, I promise you that,” Richmond said to the mother and daughter.
After Dresden Police Officer Travis Thomas responded, body cam footage showed that Richmond was informed that no crime had been committed and that they could not be trespassed from a federal, public building.
Body cam footage also showed that Officer Thomas asked Richmond for the policies, but Richmond stated that she did not have them. Thomas also asked for a phone number to contact the postal inspector and was provided with a number that re-routed back to the Dresden post office, after footage showed Officer Thomas trying to help George and Tjaden call the number and stayed on the line for 45 minutes, while Richmond locked up and left the office. Richmond also told Thomas that as far as the mailbox was concerned, there was no policy on a hardship, but that all the documents needed would be on the USPS website.
Body cam footage showed Richmond telling Thomas about not wanting Tjaden and George back in the post office and stating, “I get they served, but just because you served our country doesn’t mean you get special privileges. You still have to treat people with respect. You chose to go serve your country.”
A video recording showed Tjaden and George going back to the post office the next day with a completed hardship form for the mailbox and a letter from the VA showing a permanent and total disability. Richmond refused to accept the letter from the VA, instead telling George that she could only accept a letter from a doctor. Even after George explained to Richmond that the VA is a federal hospital for veterans, she still refused to take the form.
George and Tjaden said that they felt attacked due to the steps Richmond had taken to make the processes difficult.
“Because our mail carrier decided to forge someone else’s name to a controlled substance package and we reported it, she’s now retaliating against us by discriminating against our disabilities.”
George was able to get in contact with the postal inspector Riggs who told her that disability discrimination was a civil crime and not something he investigates and that the forgery was a misunderstanding.
George recorded a call from Richmond’s supervisor, Justin Holt, who told her that Richmond did not even notify him when the incident happened.
“That should have been the first thing that she should’ve done, but she knows in the future that if she has something she can’t handle to contact me. If she would have contacted me as this was happening, this wouldn’t have gone this far,” Holt shared.
Holt told George that the mail carrier had been told not to sign for packages. “That has been taken care of and that won’t happen again.” Holt also told George that he instructed Richmond that George and Tjaden would be able to freely conduct their business in the Dresden Post Office without any kind of interference.
Holt also told George and Tjaden that they would not have to fill out a form for their hardship mailbox and they wouldn’t have to remove it. Holt said that he would also be telling Richmond to formally apologize to them, but George and Tjaden said that they have both been back to the post office and no apology has yet to be given, nor has the illegal activity and negative behavior been addressed or resolved.
Tjaden and George filed a formal complaint against Richmond stating that, “Disability discrimination is an unlawful act that is protected by the American Disabilities Act
of 1990. I am requesting a formal investigation into these unlawful acts and into your behavior towards customers. I would also like to request that appropriate measures be taken to ensure that such incidents do not happen again in the future.”
George also called the Attorney General’s Office to press charges, because Riggs would not, but has not heard back at this time.
George and Tjaden said they want this to remind people that not all disabilities are visible to the naked eye.