Picking up the mail is normal. Picking up someone else’s mail is neighborly. Jimmying open mailboxes with a knife and sauntering down the street with a sack full of other people’s letters like some kind of demented postal Grinch is a federal offense.
That’s the lesson Richard Edward McDonald learned yesterday, when residents at Shar on and 16th streets in the Mission allegedly caught the 33-year-old Oakland parolee pilfering their mailboxes, then pursued him in an oddball, slow-speed foot chase through the neighborhood until police arrived.
Layton Reid, a programmer who just moved here from L.A., stepped out of his home at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday to discover a stranger (McDonald, allegedly) prying into a nearby mailbox. The stranger claimed he was “picking up Norma’s mail.”
That’s a sweet gesture, except nobody named Norma lives in that house.
[jump] To confirm, Reid consulted neighbor Jose Miguel Hernandez, a software engineer home early for the day, and the pair confronted the parcel poacher, who surrendered his stack of letters and split. After calling the police, Hernandez decided to follow.
“I got my dog and my skateboard, and I went after him,” Hernandez says.
What ensued was a slightly slapstick game of Mission cat and mouse for five or so minutes .
McDonald attempted various ploys to throw off pursuit, first having a seat on a stoop on 16th Street as if to suggest he lived there. When that didn’t work, he changed direction and sauntered off while removing hat and scarf in an attempt to disguise (or un-disguise?) himself, according to Hernandez.
Finally, he just started running, which arguably should have been Plan A all along. (In case you’re wondering, yes, Hernandez's skateboard was used to give chase.)
Police arrived in a few minutes (good response time, although, of course, Mission Station is only about five blocks away), by which point McDonald had finally slipped away. But an unidentified bystander became suspicious after seeing him throw his hat and backpack into a dumpster near 16th and Landers and hide out in a garage. The passerby waved officers down and stooged off his position.
SFPD confirms they arrested McDonald at 4:49 pm. Looks like he’d had a busy afternoon, because in his discarded bag they found about 50 pieces of mail, as well as several passports in other people’s names. McDonald apparently blurted a confession (“spontaneous statement” is the police term for it), helpfully pointing out which tools he’d used.
Note that all charges against Mr. McDonald — mail theft, possession of stolen property, possession of burglary tools, malicious mischief, and possession of an airsoft gun (illegal in San Francisco) — are still only allegations. He was briefly detained, issued a court date, and then sent on his merry way.
Mail theft is punishable by up to five years in prison. It presumably doesn’t ingratiate you to your parole officer, either. (The parole board has not yet returned SF Weekly's request for comment.)
People often steal mail for identity theft purposes, although this time of year they may just be looking for cash or gift cards. (Reed, in fact, just received some Christmas dough in the mail himself.)
Hernandez (full disclosure: we're friends) was pretty proud of his collar-assist, although later it occurred to him that giving chase might not have been the safest idea.
“I’m really glad he wasn’t the kind of criminal who carries a gun,” Hernandez says.
SFPD spokesman Michael Andraychak cautions that suspects should always be presumed dangerous and nobody should take dumb risks, but also adds, “We can’t do it all alone.” The police even has a whole process for “private person’s arrest,” after all.
And it's admittedly pretty cool the neighbors caught the guy. Hernandez even got a victory photo of McDonald being hauled away in the black and white. And it only happened because Hernandez clocked off early from work yesterday.