Missing mail prompts questions

GREENFIELD — When zero jurors showed up to court for a trial Monday, the result of not having received mailed notices of jury duty, local officials began to wonder if the incident could be indicative of a bigger problem with the U.S. Postal Service.

In addition to 75 potential jurors reportedly not receiving notices from the Hancock County Courthouse regarding an upcoming trial date, 170 letters sent out by the Hancock County Probation Department were apparently not received by their intended addressees, either.

That mishap occurred a few days before the murder trial of Amanda Gonzales was interrupted because no jurors showed up at the courthouse Monday morning.

The probation department reportedly sent out 170 letters at the beginning of last week informing offenders to come to the courthouse for a drug screen a few days later.

But when the screening day arrived, no one showed up, Barb Kingery, a probation office employee said.

The similarity of the two instances has led to questions about how mail is being handled by the U.S. Postal Service office in Greenfield.

“We’ve never had this happen before,” Kingery said. “It makes you wonder if someone’s not doing their job over there.”

Greenfield Post Master Mike Johnson said if there is a problem, it isn’t on the local level.

Items mailed in Greenfield continue on to a processing center in Indianapolis before being sent to their destination. He can’t be certain what happens once the mail reaches Indianapolis or leaves that facility, but Johnson said he has not been alerted to any problems.

“Usually, it can take two or three days for delivery,” he said. “But I don’t know why those letters would not have reached their destination. We’ve had no issues here.”

Postal Service spokeswoman Mary Dando said lost mail is uncommon.

The postal service has implemented advanced tracking system to help prevent such an occurrence, she said.

But without knowing the exact date and exactly how the letters entered into the service’s delivery stream, tracking gets more difficult.

“Our business is collecting and delivering the mail,” Dando said. “We pride ourselves on that, and our performance is extremely high.

“If we don’t know exactly what they did on their end, then we can’t know where (the letters) might have ended up. It may not have been the postal service’s fault at all.”

The notices of jury duty were sent out at least two weeks before the trial was set to give people plenty of time to adjust their personal schedules.

Snow’s office has yet to receive a phone call from a potential juror saying they have received the letter late, and no letters have been returned as undeliverable.

Officials at the probation department estimate their letters were sent out March 17, two days prior to the drug screening March 19. Such a schedule has been the procedure for years without any issue, Kingery said.

Some of the letters apparently did arrive. The department received a few panicked phone calls from offenders letting the office know they had gotten the letter late on March 19 or even a few days later.

There is no central mailing room at the courthouse, where both offices are located. Each court department is required to drop its own mail off at the post office or arrange for it to be picked up by carrier.

For the probation department, the missing mail was a minor inconvenience. Officials rescheduled its drug tests for the next day.

The situation was slightly more complicated for the trial, which included increased security and a lineup of witnesses who expected to testify.

Proceedings were pushed back to mid-April.

Dando said she is willing to work with both offices to find out exactly what happened.

“Millions of pieces of mail go through each day with no problem,” Dando said. “If they can pinpoint even a two-day window, we’d be able to ascertain what might have happened.”

Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.