At the Berkeley Post Office. Photo: Kai Schreiber

The Berkeley postal carrier who was arrested Saturday, after he allegedly yelled threatening comments and entered the home of a man on his route, went on the offensive Thursday and claimed the accusations are false and that he is a victim of “delivering while black.”

LaMonte Earnest, 44, who has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 11 years, and his wife, Kate Hallinan, a member of one of the Bay Area’s most prominent radical lawyering families, sent out a press release offering a different view of the incident that took place Saturday around 4:30 p.m. in the 2600 block of Sacramento Street. The couple said the U.S. Coast Guard veteran, who is black, wants to “clear his good name and restore his reputation which has been so terribly maligned.”

The Sacramento Street resident told Berkeleyside on Thursday that he was home cleaning when there was a loud “bang” on his door that frightened him. He said he thought maybe a bird had crashed into it. When he looked outside, he saw an Amazon package of books he had ordered.

He stepped outside, went onto the sidewalk and spotted the mail carrier a couple houses down. He said he asked the man “please” not to throw a box at his door again because it had scared him. (Berkeleyside is not releasing the man’s name because he said he feared for his safety.)

Earnest provided a different explanation. He said the man was aggressive.

The resident, “who is white, exited his house … and accosted Mr. Earnest screaming at him about the package,” according to the Hallinan statement. Earnest thought the resident was claiming he had damaged the door.

“LaMonte told him to leave him alone and let him finish his job,” Hallinan wrote on her Facebook page.

The resident told Berkeleyside the carrier started to curse at him as he walked briskly toward him pointing his finger. The carrier called him names and said, “no one fucking harasses me” and “no one tells me what to do,” adding, “you better get out of here,” according to the resident.

The man fled back into his apartment to call police as the carrier came after him saying, “You better run, motherfucker, you better hide… I’m coming for you,” the resident recalled. He closed his door behind him but it didn’t latch. As he dialed 911, he told Berkeleyside, “the door flings open and he’s starting to come into the apartment.”

“The mailman is kicking in the door and he’s threatening to beat me,” the resident told the dispatcher, according to the 911 recording from that day. “He’s coming into my apartment. Please help me.”

The carrier took a phone out of his bag and started taking pictures of the man and his apartment, the resident said, saying, “I have your picture, motherfucker. I know who you are.”

Earnest disputed that rendition. According to Thursday’s statement, he only “took two photographs of the door to show the lack of damage while standing on the sidewalk. He then continued with delivering mail.” Earnest said he wanted to document the condition of the door because he was afraid the resident would call his boss to complain. The press release Thursday noted that Earnest has no criminal record.

Berkeley police arrived and interviewed both men. The resident recalled sitting on his front steps crying and shaking as he made the report. Based on the accounts, police called a judge who approved an emergency protective order to keep the carrier away from the resident, said Officer Byron White, Berkeley Police spokesman.

Officers arrested Earnest after discovering he had an outstanding warrant for a misdemeanor animal cruelty charge in San Mateo County. He was also arrested on suspicion of making criminal threats.

According to police in Broadmoor, a small unincorporated area within Daly City, Earnest opened a mail slot into a home and pepper-sprayed a dog that had frightened him while he was trying to deliver mail back in August 2015. Earnest said the dog didn’t bite or hurt him and could not have reached him, police wrote in that report.

Earnest’s supervisor reprimanded him at the scene, police wrote, because he hadn’t followed USPS policy, which required him to use his mailbag as his first line of defense, and only use pepper spray as a “last resort.” The officer said he inspected the mail slot and found the carrier would have had to use two hands to open the slot and spray the liquid inside: “There appeared to be no need or reason” to do that, the officer wrote.

Earnest and Hallinan provided a different version of events in their press release. They pointed out that mail carriers are often attacked by dogs (there were about 6,214 attacks in 2017, according to USPS) and that Earnest had used his “USPS issued ‘dog repellent’ to repel the dog.”

Moreover, according to the couple, the dog’s owner, who they described as a white off-duty police officer, “ran out of the house yelling ‘you black bastard’ and other racially charged insults. Mr. Earnest called the police to report the incident. He never heard anything else about it, until he was arrested January 26, 2019.”

“Now, we have learned that he was charged with misdemeanor animal cruelty for his use of the USPS issued dog repellent,” Hallinan wrote on Facebook. “For the last three years, he has been under extreme danger with an outstanding warrant hanging over his head, without his knowledge.”

According to San Mateo County court records online, the animal cruelty case was filed in October 2015 and, on Oct. 29, Earnest was sent a “notice to appear” for a Jan. 11, 2016, hearing. Earnest did not appear that day and a judge ruled that an arrest warrant should be issued. That warrant was issued in March 2016, according to the court records.

This is not the first time Hallinan has aggressively pushed back against the Berkeley Police Department. In 2015, after a Berkeley police officer gave Earnest a traffic ticket for making a left-hand turn without using his blinker, the couple issued a press release asserting “that the stop was illegal and was motivated solely by the subjective racially-motivated suspicions of the officers, and that any alleged objective basis for the stop was fabricated subsequent to the traffic stop to justify the illegal stop and detention,” according to an article in the Daily Planet.

Earnest challenged the ticket and won when the officers did not show up to court, they said.

The couple provided other examples of false accusations they said were made against Earnest for “delivering while black.” One holiday season, while he was delivering mail on Curtis Steet at night and was using a head-mounted flashlight to see, someone called police to report a suspicious black man in the neighborhood. “Another time, a customer falsely accused him of wielding a knife. A lengthy investigation cleared Mr. Earnest of all wrongdoing.”

“LaMonte has to deal with hundreds of people every day. He has to go onto people’s property, interact with their dogs, etc. He takes his job extremely seriously, and the vast majority of his customers recognize and appreciate his hard work and dedication. However, being a black man means that he does not always receive warm and friendly reception,” Hallinan said on Facebook.

Earnest is on unpaid leave, according to Augustine Ruiz Jr., a spokesman for the USPS.

Earnest and Hallinan grew up in the same West Berkeley neighborhood, according to the press release. They have a 3-year-old daughter. Hallinan has a criminal defense legal practice in Berkeley.

Spokesman White of the Berkeley Police Department said officers were following the law when they arrested Earnest over the weekend. In addition to the outstanding warrant, he said, “We have a legal obligation to make an arrest from a citizen complaint — provided there is sufficient probable cause.”

The Sacramento Street resident said he put a one-week hold on his mail and is consulting with attorneys to consider his next steps. The Alameda County district attorney’s office told him Earnest’s arraignment will take place in several weeks. He said he also met with several senior Bay Area USPS representatives Monday, but felt they hadn’t taken his concerns seriously.

The resident went on to note that he has lived in South Berkeley for 20 years and never had a problem with anyone, including his African American neighbors and landlady. He was upset to learn he is now being labeled a racist.

“That is not true,” he said. “If I’m a white supremacist, I wouldn’t be living here. I like the diversity.”

Update 7:40 p.m. A spokesman for the USPS got back to Berkeleyside to say Earnest was hired in 2007. We have corrected the story to say he has worked for the postal service for more than 11 years, rather than more than 13, the number he provided. 

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...