Note this: Violators could be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned up to three years for each act of vandalism
Source: Title 18, United State Code, Section 1705
A state law also provides for fines up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail.
Source: Clay County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Pell
A recent series of mailbox bashings has left quite a few area residents frustrated and on alert. One resident, James Coltharp, of CR 1100 N, said that his mailbox and the mailboxes of several of his neighbors have been vandalized three times within the past two weeks.
Coltharp said on Nov. 6, his mailbox was busted and the mail was scattered about in the road and yard. He taped the box together to continue to get mail until he could replace the receptacle. But two days later his mailbox was hit again. The vandalism was repeated, yet again, on Nov. 15.
There have also been reports of mailbox destruction on Knightsville Road, Harmony Road and Kennedys Crossing Road. Apparently the damage is being done by persons driving by and throwing large white stones at the boxes or striking them with a piece of wood or other apparatus.
Jesse Walker, also of CR 1100 N, was another three-time victim. He reported the incident to the Clay County Sheriff's Dept.
Walker said the first such assault was done by a group of about 10 people riding in an SUV. He was later able to track down several of the culprits and confronted them.
"They looked to be college guys," Walker, the WTWO NewsChannel 2 chief meteorologist, said. "I'm guessing they were between 21 and 23 years old. "These were not kids. But I think there's others, too. I don't know how old they might be."
Walker said that a couple of the guys came back and fixed the mailbox so he did not pursue charges at the Sheriff's Dept. Since the vandalism has continued, however, he said he will press charges next time.
According to Chief Deputy Prosecutor Bob Pell, the United States Postal Inspection Service states that "Mailboxes are considered federal property, and federal law (Title 18, United States Code, Section 1705), makes it a crime to vandalize them (and to injure, deface or destroy any mail deposited in them). Violators can be fined up to $250,000 or imprisoned for up to three years for each act of vandalism."
Pell said a state law charge of criminal mischief might also be filed. Criminal mischief is a B Misdemeanor. Violators could be fined up to $1,000 and/or jailed up to 180 days.
The Clay County Sheriff's Dept. said that vandals need to understand they may have to go before a judge. Besides any fines, they might also have to pay court costs and could be placed on probation.
The legal system takes the matter very seriously even though the perpetrators may think it's all just a funny, harmless, prank.
And it can take a toll on the victims. There's an emotional aspect of taking away their sense of feeling safe and secure in their own homes. There's also lost time and some expense involved in cleaning up the mess and repairing or replacing the boxes. Most mailboxes start at about $50 and can go as high as several hundred dollars.
One victim on Knightsville road placed metal bars on either side of her mailbox to protect it from the vandals. Another victim asked if there were any legal restrictions on the installation of a mailbox.
Pell said there were no known laws mandating how to assemble or put up a mailbox. Clay County Highway Supervisor Ron Chamberlain agreed that he knew of no restrictions other than what the U.S. Post Office requires.
Chad Way, Supervisor of Delivery Services at the Brazil U.S. Post Office, said their only requirements are: The bottom of the box has to be 38-42 inches above the road, the box has to set at least six inches back from the road and the lid and flag must be functioning.
Sheriff Rob Carter said that if the victim can supply a license number or a description of the vehicle, they can investigate. He said several vandals had been caught after the fact.
"You've got to keep a sense of humor about it," Coltharp said. "But it's frustrating. We'll have a neighborhood watch until we catch them."