By Mike Donoghue, Vermont News First
Also published in the Caledonian-Record
A New Hampshire man, who is accused of assaulting and knocking out a U.S. Postal delivery worker in Essex County a year ago, is due to go on trial today in U.S. District Court in Burlington.
Trevor Frizzell, 24, has pleaded not guilty to a federal charge of assaulting postal worker Paul Burch, 66, as he made his official rounds in the town of Brunswick in the Northeast Kingdom on the afternoon of Oct. 25, 2022, court records show.
Essex County State’s Attorney Vince Illuzzi initially charged Frizzell with two felonies: aggravated assault and assault and robbery. Frizzell pleaded not guilty in Vermont Superior Court in Guildhall and those cases are still pending.
Frizzell was listed in Vermont court records as living in Colebrook, N.H. after his state arrest, but he wrote on his release papers in federal court in January after his arraignment that he was living in Stratford, N.H.
Assistant Federal Defender Sara M. Puls has said the criminal case centers on self-defense: Frizzell was defending himself after he was improperly grabbed by Burch.
Puls, who is assisted by Steven Barth, wrote in court papers that Burch has had a spotty record for the postal service and has been terminated in the past. She wrote he has a “history of erratic and unruly behavior and unprovoked aggression during the course of his work as a mail carrier as well as his reputation for erratic, aggressive and irrational behavior.”
Puls said in one pre-trial motion that Burch is known for unprovoked aggression and troubles within the postal service. She wrote that in one case a 60-year-old man was snow blowing near his mailbox Rather than waiting, Burch knocked the man into a snowbank with the front of the mail vehicle, she said. Burch “received a letter of warning from the Postal Service for acting unprofessionally and dangerously on his mail route,” she wrote.
She said the snow blowing victim, who has Parkinson’s Disease and has trouble walking, confirmed the incident and said Burch sped off without apologizing.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Corinne Smith and Wendy L. Fuller see the case differently and classified it as a criminal assault.
Senior Federal Judge William K. Sessions III ordered Frizzell detained in September after the prosecution maintained he had repeatedly failed to follow his pre-trial release conditions and had threatened to fatally shoot two people, court records show. Frizzell had repeatedly used marijuana, despite repeated admonitions from his pre-trial services officer, who had to seek help from the defense lawyers to try to help bring him into compliance, Fuller said in a motion.
“And most troubling, the defendant is now alleged to have threatened to kill two people with a firearm,” Fuller said in a motion seeking an emergency warrant to bring him before the court. Fuller wrote the pre-trial services officer reported that unfortunately Frizzell “continues to demonstrate poor impulse control and exhibit threatening and assaultive behavior.”
Fuller added, “This is notable because this is the same exact conduct which led to the postal employee’s injuries.”
The federal court trial centers on a signature-required package being delivered to Frizzell, Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby said. Frizzell was not home to sign for the package and he went to the post office to try to claim it, but was told Burch was still out making delivers, Colby said. The post office called Burch, who reported he was finishing his rounds, said Frizzell could meet him on the road and sign for the package, the sheriff said.
The case escalated when the two men met on the side of the road near a row of mailboxes, Colby said.
Colby said a local resident, Brenda McKenzie, reported she witnessed part of the incident as she turned left onto Maidstone Lake Road from Vermont 105. She said Burch was on the ground and Frizzell had a package in his hand. She said Frizzell told her initially to move on because it did not concern her, but then said, “He has my package. He pushed me so I hit him.” Colby said in court papers.
She said Burch was unconsciousness when she arrived and she went over, knelt down and put his head in her lap until he woke up, the sheriff said. McKenzie, 57, said Frizzell recognized her as his former art teacher.
McKenzie reported that when Burch saw Frizzell leaving with the package, he said he would have to sign for it, Colby said. He said McKenzie reported Burch then stood up, scanned the package and Frizzell signed for it. Tracking papers show it was signed at 3:16 p.m.
Colby reported Burch indicated he was still trying to put the pieces together because he didn’t know Frizzell and didn’t remember being hit.
Frizzell in his sworn statement to the sheriff’s department said Burch was insistent that he use his key to open his mailbox to get the package. He said he explained he was the man the postmaster had called about trying to retrieve the package that had not been left at his home. He said Burch was disrespectful and he saw the package addressed to him on the center console of the Jeep, Colby said. Burch grabbed him from behind, but Frizzell said he backed him into the Jeep and he released his grip, the sheriff said.
Frizzell said he hit him with one punch and knocked him out, Colby said. Frizzell said he stayed with Burch, along with McKenzie until he came around, Colby wrote.
Colby said Burch initially claimed he pulled Frizzell out of the Jeep by using a headlock, but the sheriff said it was clear they had different understandings of the word. Burch explained he was behind Frizzell and had his arm across the patron’s upper body with his hands toward Frizzell’s opposite shoulder, not around his neck, the sheriff wrote
Burch was later examined at Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook, N.H. where the staff treated him for a concussion, cleaned some wounds, took x-rays and used two stiches to close a wound above his lip, Colby said.
Burch claimed on a 1-to-10 scale with 10 as the worst, he scored his right cheek near his nose as a 6, neck pain as a 7 and the back of his head a 4, Colby said.
The sheriff said at no point did Burch provide the package to Frizzell — that he took it himself out of the Jeep.
Burch said he received a call from Postmaster Bethany Macdonald a few minutes after 3 p.m. about the package and he indicated he was just about done his deliveries in Maidstone, but was glad to meet the customer, Colby said.
Burch said a man later pulled up and asked about a package, but he had no idea that it was Frizzell seeking the package mentioned in the phone call. Burch said he had attempted to deliver it to Frizzell’s address in New Hampshire, just east of the Vermont line.
Colby said Burch reported his Jeep door was open as he filled some mailboxes and he spotted the man apparently heading to retrieve the package. Burch said he told him to stay out of the Jeep and it was illegal for him to touch the mail, Colby wrote. Burch said he then grabbed the man, later identified as Frizzell, out of the Jeep.
Burch said the last thing he remembers is Frizzell saying “you put your hands on me.” The next thing he remembered was waking and finding a woman cradling his head in her hands and looking at the sky, Colby wrote. He realized he was on the ground and described being dizzy and disoriented, the sheriff said.
Macdonald later gave a statement confirming that Frizzell had come to the Post Office in North Stratford, N.H. about 2:55 p.m. seeking the package. She explained the post office was about to close, but Frizzell said he needed the package that day because he worked the following day and would not be able to sign for it
The court has set aside up to five days for the trial, which had been postponed at least twice. It was scheduled for June 20 and July 5, but was delayed as both sides battled over pre-trial motions.