Not Licked Yet
Billy Mullins has found faith. "The justice system of this great city has finally realized," he begins, "that it was a bunch of fuckin' lies conjured up about us."
Actually, he's still a little bitter.
Recently, after some deliberation, the city's justice system concluded that Mullins did not commit several crimes he had been accused of over the past two years. The charges he beat included allegedly singing the lewdly philatelic "I want to lick you all over" to a co-worker at the U.S. Postal Service's 20th Street station and criminally holding his nose when another female worker walked by his work area and complaining loudly that she smelled.
Last month the same justice system also threw out the case of Garland Lewis, Mullins's co-worker at the downtown postal station. Unlike Mullins, Lewis in May 1995 actually was convicted of harassment for his on-the-job observations of co-workers. For example, he was found guilty of saying "There's a big black cow in here. Moo, moo, smell the stockyards." And he reportedly called another colleague a "roly-poly ass."
"There's a Mack truck coming through," he was said to have added.
The vindication of the two men almost seals the envelope on a series of playground spats between Mullins and Lewis and a handful of mostly female co-workers that began more than two years ago. Since then, it has tied up several lawyers and courtrooms, a police detective and, at one point, spilled over to a radio show ("Mail Anatomy," September 13, 1995).
There is no doubt the friction between the employee groups caused trouble at the post office. Several of the women who complained about the two men's comments called in sick from the tension, and both Lewis and Mullins at times had to go home to cool off. Still, says Richard Ott, Lewis's attorney, "this is the kind of thing that could have been dealt with internally. [Management] should have called people to the carpet, and they would have listened."
Instead, the women went to a Denver Police Department detective assigned to the post office to investigate mail fraud. Fed up with listening to their escalating complaints, James Rock began filing charges against Lewis and Mullins.
The legal fallout began in May 1994, when 20th Street postal clerk Trina Bell told Rock that Lewis called her a "roly-poly ass," although, Bell conceded, not actually to her face. The "Mack truck" incident followed soon after, and shortly after that, the "Moo, moo, smell the stockyards" episode, which involved another co-worker, Carol Ware.
A year later Lewis was convicted of two counts of harassment. (He also was charged with slurring a male co-worker by calling him a "wackadoo," but that case was dismissed when the prosecuting city attorney made a technical error.)
Lewis's attorney appealed the harassment convictions. Ott contended, among other defenses, that even if Lewis had uttered the offending remarks, they were made to a friend and not directly to the women. "You really can't charge someone with harassment for talking to their friend," Ott points out. "It may be obnoxious, but it's not harassment."
Meanwhile, Mullins was having his own brushes with the law. In the fall of 1994, Trina Bell complained to Detective Rock that she learned Mullins had described her as having "big teeth, like a horse." A complaint was filed, but the city attorney declined to prosecute.
Mullins wasn't so lucky last spring. That's when he was formally charged by Rock with harassment for, among other things, remarking that a co-worker stank. Also, the detective charged that Mullins allegedly had grabbed his--Mullins's--crotch and buttocks when women looked at him and that he sang songs that contained the phrase "big booty."
Mullins's trial was scheduled for late 1995. Then fate intervened, in the form of the Big Butt incident.
One of the women who'd filed a complaint about Mullins's supposed comments was Jackie Reuteler, another postal clerk. "I overheard both Garland Lewis and Billy Mullins making lewd and filthy remarks regarding my female anatomy," she wrote in a May 9, 1995, police report.
Four months later, however, Reuteler seemed to have regained her composure. She entered a competition held on a local morning radio show called the Big Butt Contest (she came in third). Reuteler's apparent emotional recovery, coupled with a lack of hard evidence, led to Mullins's acquittal in December 1995.
Then, two months ago, a Denver judge considered Lewis's appeal of his harassment convictions from a year ago. After hearing the arguments, on April 5 the district attorney declined to reprosecute the case, and the convictions against Lewis were reversed.
Despite their clean records, both Lewis and Mullins have had to dodge fallout from their brushes with the law. Citing Lewis's convictions (along with his longish disciplinary record), the Postal Service canned him last year. When he applied to drive a bus for RTD, the agency refused to hire him, also citing his harassment convictions. (Lewis now drives tourist buses to mountain gambling towns.)
Mullins was placed on leave in the summer of 1995 after his co-workers filed the complaints against him. When it was time for him to return, Mullins says, the Postal Service offered him a deal: He could work the graveyard shift at the General Mail Facility, but he must never enter the 20th Street station again. He refused and was fired in October, while the harassment charges were still pending. His application for unemployment was initially turned down when the Postal Service wrote a letter saying the firing was his own doing.
Mullins won the unemployment case on appeal, but making ends meet has been difficult. "I've had to borrow money to pay the rent," he says. "Everything I own is in the pawn shop."
Despite the exoneration of both Lewis and Mullins, however, the downtown post office fracas isn't quite over. The men have filed a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Court against Postmaster General Marvin Runyon and their postal supervisors and co-workers at the 20th Street station. That suit is pending.
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