Crime

Postal Service withholds information about Tacoma mail carrier charged with assault, harassment

The U.S. Postal Service has refused to make public records about a South Tacoma carrier accused of assaulting and harassing five women on his route over the period of a decade.

Robert Taitano, 55, was charged Oct. 29 with harassment, fourth-degree assault and residential burglary in Pierce County. He pleaded not guilty and was released, pending trial, after making $35,000 bail the day after he was charged.

Tacoma police and the U.S. Postal Service Office of the Inspector General said the investigation into the allegations against Taitano is ongoing.

Court records indicate the five incidents that led to charges against Taitano happened in South Tacoma, in an area between state Route 16 and South 43rd Street, and between South Tyler and South Alder streets.

The first incident was in 2004, and the most recent in August, according to the court documents.

Among allegations made against Taitano are that he propositioned a woman on his route for sex, clutched another, and demanded to be hugged and grabbed the butt of a third victim.

After the latest incident, in which Taitano is accused of entering a woman’s apartment without her consent, the victim said in a statement to the court that “my life is consumed with grief and panic.”

“When I drive pass the Post Office, see a mail truck or have to pickup mail from the postal center where he works, I relive the attack over and over again ... and feel the same emotions and fear I felt that day,” she wrote.

Taitano’s lawyer declined to comment for this story.

“It’s my general practice to not comment on ongoing cases,” attorney Michael Stewart said.

Within days of Taitano being charged, The News Tribune requested his personnel file and investigative records from the Postal Service and the Office of the Inspector General.

Such files presumably would show what, if any, action was taken by the Postal Service after the women filed complaints against Taitano.

Both requests were denied. Representatives for the agencies involved also would not answer basic questions about the investigation, such as whether Taitano is still employed by the agency.

The only information released about Taitano from the Postal Service or the Office of the Inspector General came in a press release issued in October by John D. Masters, the regional spokesman for the inspector general’s office.

The office began investigating Taitano in August, Masters said in the release, which identified Taitano as a carrier technician with the Tacoma Central Carrier Facility, but did not identify his routes.

The News Tribune appealed the Office of the Inspector General’s decision to withhold the investigative records, and a Jan. 7 letter denying the appeal cited two exemptions to the federal Freedom of Information Act.

One allows agencies to withhold information compiled for law enforcement purposes; the other protects against invasions of personal privacy.

“Without a critical public interest outweighing a person’s privacy interest, an agency cannot release records pertaining to an individual person,” wrote Gladis C. Griffith, a FOIA appeals officer.

Masters said Jan. 12 that he could not speak about the decision to withhold the records, and referred The News Tribune to the agency’s FOIA office.

In a request for information from the FOIA office, the newspaper asked why the allegations against Taitano did not constitute an overriding public interest and justify releasing records related to the investigation.

In response, a representative of the FOIA office declined to answer and referred The News Tribune back to the initial denial letter.

“There’s no other additional information that we have,” the representative said in a voice message.

In another request last week, the newspaper asked whether Taitano still is employed, if he is working a mail route, which routes he had been responsible for at the time of the allegations and how long he had worked for the agency.

In response, Masters sent a release identical to the October statement, which contained none of that information.

Regional Postal Service spokesman Ernie Swanson was able to say that Taitano was hired as a letter carrier in Tacoma on July 31, 1999. He responded to the other questions by referring to Master’s release.

He did add: “I cannot discuss Mr. Taitano’s current status with the U.S. Postal Service due to the Privacy Act. It is the general policy of the Postal Service to place employees off duty without pay during the pendency of criminal proceedings.”

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