A bitter and sometimes bizarre feud between an Arlington couple and U.S. Postal Service workers has reached a climax with one mailman being slapped with a harassment protection order after being accused of stalking.
Cambridge District Court Judge Michele B. Hogan issued the order May 8 against an unnamed postal worker, identified in subsequent orders as Allen Hodgkins. The ex parte order requires the defendant to stay at least 100 yards away from the plaintiff, Heather Astaneh, and also to remain away from her home on Rublee Street.
“[Hodgkins] has engaged in stalking behavior and has placed [my client] in very real fear of personal harm,” says Boston civil rights attorney Lauren M. Thomas, who represents Astaneh. “He’s been photographing and video-recording my client in her home. He sits behind her house and stares in her window.”
In an affidavit in support of her complaint for protection from harassment, Astaneh also accuses Hodgkins of watching and following her in the neighborhood.
“Most recently he tried to run me off the road in the rain,” the plaintiff says in her affidavit.
The strife first started a few years ago when Heather and her husband, Amin Astaneh, complained to the USPS about the service provided by their mail carrier, Sharon A. Demirdjian. Their major beef was that Demirdjian mishandled packages delivered to their home, leaving the contents damaged.
They also claimed that Demirdjian “engaged in systematically abusive, rude, intimidating and demeaning behavior,” threatening Heather when she answered the door.
The Astanehs installed a video camera at their front doorstep to capture Demirdjian’s actions in an effort to substantiate their complaints to the USPS.
But the video surveillance triggered a tit-for-tat between the postal workers and homeowners. The Astanehs allege that their mail service was twice stopped because they either refused to stop recording their mail carrier or because Heather would keep an eye on Demirdjian from the front window as she delivered the family’s mail.
The Astanehs also alleged that they came under video surveillance by postal workers, apparently intent on trying to catch Heather recording them.
Things got so bad that last June Thomas sent the Postal Service a notice of intent to sue under the Federal Tort Claims Act. In the notice, the Astanehs alleged that the USPS was violating their First Amendment rights by trying to stop them from video-recording the actions of postal workers.
Thomas says she since has been able to resolve most of the issues with the USPS without actually having to file a FTCA complaint. Notably, Thomas reports that Demirdjian was taken off the mail route servicing the Astanehs’ home.
The Hodgkins matter, meanwhile, may be a case of bad blood arising from the complaints against a fellow mail carrier. Hodgkins doesn’t deliver the mail on the Astanehs’ street, but his route does include Sylvia Street, the road that runs behind the Astanehs’ home.
In February, Heather called police to report someone in a suspicious vehicle recording her home from Sylvia Street. Police called to the scene didn’t find the vehicle, but couldn’t help but notice that the Astanehs had a large bed sheet hanging from their rear deck with the message: “USPS stop harassing my wife.” Arlington police responded to a similar call on April 7, but again came up empty in their search for a suspicious vehicle.
On May 30, the USPS removed Heather Astaneh’s harassment prevention case from state court to U.S. District Court. In its notice of removal, the USPS claims that, rather than harassing Heather, Hodgkins is simply doing his job by delivering mail along a route he’s had for more than a decade. In that regard, the government claims that it only makes sense that Heather frequently would see Hodgkins in the neighborhood. The government also claims that Hodgkins only photographed Heather because Heather was photographing him. In arguing for removal, the USPS contends that the harassment order against Hodgkins interferes with his ability to perform his duties as a mail carrier.
But other judges in Cambridge District Court have already issued extensions of Judge Hogan’s original harassment protection order. Thomas says she intends to file a motion to dismiss the federal court action and have the matter remanded to state court. That said, Thomas admits that Cambridge District Court will likely vacate the protection order if she’s unsuccessful in getting the matter remanded. In that event, Thomas says she will ask the federal court to issue a similar protective order against Hodgkins.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Jason C. Weida, who represents the USPS, declines to comment.