Editor's note: An earlier version of this story referred to ETSU's postmaster. ETSU has no postmaster, as that title is reserved for employees of the United States Postal Service. The postal services manager at ETSU is an employee of the university.
East Tennessee State University’s postal services manager was fired Tuesday for earlier this month opening a package addressed to a student.
Harvey Byerley, who was in charge at ETSU’s campus post office, was notified Tuesday by a letter from ETSU Vice President for Finance and Administration David Collins he was terminated effective Dec. 27, though he need not report to work again.
According to documents obtained from the university by the Johnson City Press through an open records request, around Nov. 12 Byerley was notified that two ETSU students had been receiving suspicious express mail packages for a few weeks.
On Nov. 19, a similar package addressed to one of the students arrived at the campus post office.
The student addressee was not named in the ETSU documents but that was the same day, according to court documents, a package addressed to Marcus Dubose that contained what was believed to be marijuana was intercepted at ETSU's post office. Dubose and his roommate Sheldon Cooley were star ETSU basketball players. They each received drug charges from the First Judicial District Drug Task Force and have since been dismissed from the men’s basketball team.
According to one of the obtained ETSU documents, Byerley opened the suspicious package that came into the post office Nov. 19. The documents do not indicate what Byerley found in the package but that he called Lt. Mike Orr with ETSU Public Safety, who notified DTF.
Shortly thereafter the ETSU chief of Public Safety and Collins were told of Byerley’s opening the package.
On Nov. 21, Byerley was interviewed by several ETSU administrators and said he was “authorized to open the package based on guidance from a former postal employee,” according to one of the ETSU documents.
But a postal inspector quoted in the document said it was a violation of federal law for the package to be opened. Byerley was placed on paid administrative leave Nov. 21 pending an internal investigation of his opening the package.
Included in one of the documents related to Byerley’s termination was wording from a federal law that states in part that, “Whoever takes any letter, postal card, or package out of any post office ... before it has been delivered to the person to whom it was directed ... shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than five years, or both.”
The author of the document concluded Byerley’s employment with the university be terminated in accordance with his contract.
No other information regarding Byerley was obtained.
A call to DTF seeking comment on the investigation into the marijuana found Nov. 19 was not immediately returned.
Dubose and Cooley appeared in court Monday and had their hearings reset for Dec. 20.
Dubose is charged with possession of schedule VI drugs for resale and possession of drug paraphernalia. Cooley is charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.
The paraphernalia charges stem from a set of scales commonly used to weigh marijuana that was found inside the men’s campus apartment.
Cooley has already had one round of charges this year for filing a false police report. He pleaded guilty under diversion to that charge. The diversion could be revoked.
It was announced Wednesday that both men were dismissed from the basketball team.