Victim was also threatened with pit bull. Alleged killer is charged with murder.
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana––Fatally shot on April 27, 2020 by Tony Cushingberry-Mays, 21, who admitted doing the shooting, and on July 5, 2022 pleaded guilty to second degree murder for doing it, U.S. Postal Service mail carrier Angela Summers, 45, also died in part because of increasingly militant “blame the victim” attitudes on the part of dog owners––and reluctance of both victims and authorities to press criminal charges in cases involving dangerous dog behavior.
Cushingberry-Mays, 21 at the time of the shooting, was initially charged with second degree murder, discharging a firearm during and in relation to a crime of violence, and assault on U.S. government employee.
Cushingberry-Mays may now be sentenced to life in prison. The assault charge could bring Cushingberry-Mays a 20-year sentence.
No dog-related offense charged
Media reports commonly attributed Summers’ killing to a dispute with Cushingberry-Mays’ household over non-delivery of COVID-19 economic stimulus checks. But the sequence of events leading to the killing began with canine misbehavior and the refusal of the Cushingberry-Mays household to effectively address it.
No offense pertaining to dog behavior is listed on the charge sheet, but had Cushingberry-Mays or others responsible for the dogs residing at 426 North Denny Street in Indianapolis been prosecuted for either allowing a Chihuahua to run at large or allegedly threatening Summers with a pit bull, Summers might still be alive and her killer, Cushingberry-Mays, might still have a good chance to spend the rest of his life outside of high walls and bars.
In legal precedent, as well as the letter of federal law, and most state laws, dog owners are responsible for any harm their dogs do to others, either on or off their owners’ property, if the victims are engaged in legal conduct.
Delivering mail, in particular, is specifically protected by federal statute.
Victim did not seek “dangerous dog” designation
But, whetted by the pit bull advocacy shibboleth that dogs themselves are never to blame for attacks, dog owners more and more argue that the onus for avoiding attacks should be with victims––including victims like Summers, who was herself a pit bull advocate.
Summers took a long series of steps to avoid recurring confrontations with dogs belonging to Cushingberry-Mays’ household, but apparently did not seek a “dangerous dog” designation from Indianapolis Animal Care Services, or file assault charges against anyone in the Cushingberry-Mays household for having threatened her.
Neither did either the U.S. Postal Service or the National Association of Letters Carriers’ Indianapolis branch, the labor union representing Summer, seek a “dangerous dog” designation on Summers’ behalf.
Ironically, Summers on April 22, 2018 helped to rehome a pit bull from Indianapolis Animal Services at an adoption event. Summers too may have believed that there are no bad dogs, only bad owners. Yet if no one filed a “dangerous dog” complaint, Indianapolis Animal Services had no chance to respond to the issues involving the owners.
Why Chihuahuas can be dangerous
Though the threat of a pit bull attack was involved in Summers’ death, the dog whose unrestrained misconduct led to her murder was the Chihuahua.
Even a yappy, aggressive Chihuahua might seem to pose little threat to most people under most circumstances. But most people are not lugging a heavy mail bag up flights of steps, trying not to trip over the dog, which could possibly lead to suffering broken bones and at least temporary loss of job through disability, perhaps injuring the dog as well.
Summers herself detailed the prelude to her murder just two days earlier, at 12:20 a.m. on April 25, 2020, in her Facebook album “Tales from the Route.”
Wrote Summers, “So there’s this house with a chichi. This dog is a nasty devil that I’ve actually had to [mace] spray––twice! The people just let it run, because it’s a Chihuahua. What kind of trouble could it possibly be to anyone else, right? The kids have been out with it and twice I’ve made them gather it and take it inside. Adults have been out with it and twice I’ve told them to take it inside. Three times they’ve gotten a dog warning card in their mail box with their address on it. That’s more generous than I usually am to most problem owners.
“Still, the dog is allowed to run loose.”
What is a “dog warning card”?
The “dog warning card,” meant to be issued only once before escalating steps are taken, read:
“Dear Postal Service Customer:
“Your letter carrier takes pride in delivering your mail promptly and efficiently. That means being able to approach your mailbox without interference from your pet.
“Although your dog may not be known to bite or otherwise be dangerous to people, your carrier has expressed concern about its behavior. I believe you will agree that this concern is understandable since each year thousands of letter carriers are bitten or physically harmed by dogs.
“This letter is to inform you that we are concerned your dog may have a propensity to attack and to bite or otherwise injure your letter carrier.
“To provide you uninterrupted mail delivery while protecting our letter carriers, the Postal Service is requesting your assistance. Please confine your dog, either in the house or tethered or fenced outdoors, away from the route your carrier uses to deliver your mail.
“We appreciate your cooperation.”
Suspect Cushingberry’s mama
Continued Summers, “A month ago, the last time the dog was loose and wouldn’t stop coming after me, they stopped receiving mail. Now stimulus checks are going out. Guess who didn’t get one yesterday.
“This house had two checks,” Summers explained. “One was addressed to a former resident, DW,” possibly one of three people by those initials on homeowner Acacia Cushingberry’s Facebook “friends” list who have lived in Indianapolis.
“One was addressed to a current resident, AC,” apparently Acacia Cushingberry herself, Summers continued.
Acacia Elayne Cushingberry, 37, is Tony Cushingberry-Mays’ mother, a certified nurse aide at the University Heights Nursing Home in Indianapolis since 2014. Cushingberry bought the two-story, four-bedroom, 1900-vintage frame house at 426 North Denny Street in 2017, for just $28,000.
Father in prison?
Circumstantial indications are that Tony Cushingberry-Mays’ father may have been Tony Mays. A man of that name was convicted in Vigo County (Indiana) Superior Court in 2007 of two counts of Class B felony dealing cocaine. Sentenced to an 18-year aggregate prison term, Mays lost a 2009 appeal based in part on the refusal of the court to disclose to him the identity of a female informant. He is apparently still in prison.
There appear to have been multiple other male residents of the Cushingberry-Mays household in the years since.
“Before I left the office,” Summers resumed, “I put DW’s check into ‘forward’ because there’s a forwarding order for it. When I got to the street and saw the check for the current person, I pulled it to go with the rest of the ‘dog letter’ mail (they have to sign a dog letter before they can get their mail or re-establish delivery.)”
What is a “dog letter”?
The “dog letter,” a second warning in a sequence of three U.S. Postal Service warning letters, read:
“Dear Postal Service Customer:
“We were unable to deliver your mail recently because your unrestrained dog threatened our letter carrier.
“We previously notified you of our concern that your dog might have a propensity to attack and to bite or otherwise injure your letter carrier. That concern was based on prior observations.
“We are sorry for any inconvenience the interruption of your mail delivery might have caused. However, I think you can understand that the Postal Service must protect its employees from potential injury.
“If your carrier is threatened by your unrestrained dog again, we must take further action. That action will require you to either arrange to obtain your mail at a Post Office box or install a mail receptacle at the curb in front of your residence for home delivery.
“To restore delivery at this time, please pick up your mail at our Post Office, which is located at [Address]. You will be asked to sign a statement assuring us that you will keep your dog restrained during normal delivery hours.”
“I am over these lunatics”
Narrated Summers, “After I pass this street, I get a call asking if this house got a stimulus check today. Well no, I respond. All of their mail is on hold until they sign a dog letter. There was a check for them, but they get nothing until they sign that letter.
“‘What about DW,’ I am asked.
“‘Well, he got a check too, but I put it in to be forwarded,’ I respond.
“So this morning DW and his lady mouthpiece are on the phone––again––calling to ask about the check. Where is it going? When was it sent there? Can’t they just pick it up at the post office?
“(Why the stock answer is not, “Sure, you can pick it up at the post office once you rent a P.O. Box is beyond me.)
“Anyway, these are utterly ridiculous questions,” Summers wrote, “and at this point I’m done with the whole mess. They’ve already involved a clerk, two carriers, and a supervisor, and I’ve had to repeat myself five times in less than 24 hours. I am over these lunatics.”
The warning they did not get
Had Summers not sent the Cushingberry-Mays household the first warning three times, the third warning the household received would have required the household to rent a P.O. Box.
The standard third warning reads:
“Dear Postal Service Customer:
“We previously notified you that your dog is considered to be a danger to your letter carrier. Yet, on [Date], our letter carrier was again threatened by your dog. As a result of this incident, I must ask you to choose within the next [Number] days one of the following options for receiving your mail:
- Rent a Post Office™ box to receive your mail.
- Install a mail receptacle at the curb in front of your residence.
“Until you have informed us of your decision, your mail will be held at [Post Office and Address]. It will be available for pickup during normal business hours, which are [Insert Your Office’s Monday-Friday and Saturday Hours]. If you have not picked up your mail within [Number of Days], we will return it to the senders.
“She’ll personally mace me”
But the U.S. Postal Service warning letter sequence never got that far.
“Today I’m walking past said house,” Summers resumed in her April 25, 2020 account, “and loads of people are on the porch. I mean LOADS. There are a half dozen kids running around too. And the chichi. The chichi starts barking and I move to the sidewalk to pass the house. A woman stands up and hollers for my attention. She tells me that she’s the ‘lady of this house’ and that if I EVER mace her dog again she’ll personally mace me.
“(Yup, that was definitely a threat to a federal employee *note*.)
The self-described “lady of the house” appears to have been Acacia Elayne Cushingberry.
“Going to set a pit bull loose”
Recounted Summers, “Then she proceeds to yell ‘bitch’ this and ‘kick your ass bitch’ that at me. I keep walking. I get to the other side of this house’s yard and am putting mail in the box at the next house and she’s yelling that if I talk to these kids again she’s going to set a pit bull loose on my white bitch ass.
“(Two clear threats now. I’m beginning to feel seriously unsafe. How exactly does race factor in this? Is she threatening to commit a hate crime against a federal employee?)
“I turn to go to the next house (yup, quite literally turning my back on that shitshow) and she finished up with, ‘And you BETTER deliver my mail, bitch!’ (Is she really serious? Like I’m gonna set one single foot on that porch between now and when hell freezes over, after being verbally assaulted and threatened with physical harm and a hate crime.”
“She was just following protocol”
Confirmed Daily Beast reporter Pilar Melendez, “Prosecutors said the USPS Linwood Indianapolis Post Office last sent a letter to the Cushingberry-Mays residence on April 13, 2020, indicating they would have to pick up mail from the post office.
“Paul Toms, president of the National Association of Letters Carriers’ Indianapolis branch, said that, in compliance with USPS guidelines, Summers had reported an issue with dogs at the home. After three warning letters were sent, mail had been blocked from the home for about two weeks and “wasn’t even given to Angela that day,” Toms told Melendez.
“She was just following protocol and the Postal Service curtailed the mail. It was not her fault that she didn’t have the mail that day,” Melendez said. “My understanding is that she tried to explain that the mail could be picked up at another location.”
According to the affidavit of U.S. Postal Inspection Service inspector Joseph J. De St. Jean, who questioned Cushingberry-Mays following his arrest, shortly after he shot Summers, “Cushingberry-Mays stated he approached the letter carrier as she was delivering mail at 422 North Denny Street, Indianapolis, Indiana,” next door to the Cushingberry house, at about four p.m., “and asked for their mail.
“He asked for their mail several times and the letter carrier did not respond to him. He said he stepped onto the porch steps of 422 North Denny Street, Indianapolis, Indiana. He was approximately six feet away from the letter carrier. He said the letter carrier turned around, grabbed her mace spray, and sprayed Cushingberry-Mays.
Fired gun, but “did not mean to kill”
“Cushingberry-Mays then pulled his handgun from the right side of his waistband (no holster),” the affidavit continues, “pointed his handgun at the letter carrier, and fired one shot at the letter carrier. He acknowledged the mace was not deadly, but led to discomfort from his asthma. Cushingberry-Mays stated he then fled the scene and went to the residence of his aunt, Taylor Hawkings, near 21st Street in Indianapolis, Indiana.
“Cushingberry-Mays further stated that he placed the handgun in the garage of his mother’s residence (426 North Denny Street, Indianapolis, Indiana).
“Cushingberry-Mays stated that he never spoke to the letter carrier before the shooting incident,” the affidavit says. “He stated he did not mean to kill the letter carrier, but wanted to scare her. He stated his mother Acacia Cushingberry and cousin Tiffany Reed witnessed the incident.”
Indianapolis police, upon arrival, found Summers dying from a chest wound on the porch at 422 North Denny Street.
“Two occupants identified as Acacia Cushingberry and Tiffany Reed were located inside the house,” the affidavit specified. “Acacia Cushingberry stated she owned the residence at 426 North Denny Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46201. Tiffany Reed stated she was a friend of Acacia Cushingberry. Both Acacia Cushingberry and Tiffany Reed stated they were at 426 North Denny Street, Indianapolis, Indiana 46201, at the time of the shooting. Acacia Cushingberry further stated that she was yelling at her children during the time of the incident.”
An unidentified male witness reportedly told police he heard Reed and Cushingberry repeatedly scream, “Tony, no!”
Said Heavy.com, “It’s unclear whether this screaming began before or after Summers had been shot.”
19-year-old neighbor helped the victim
At 422 North Denny Street, reported Justin L. Mack, Vic Ryckaert, and Mary Claire Molloy of the Indianapolis Star, “Alondra Salazar, 19, was falling asleep in her home when she heard a loud bang.
“At first I thought something had fallen in the house,” Salazar told them. “I heard someone knocking.”
“Salazar looked through the peephole and didn’t see anything,” the Indianapolis Star account continued. “When she opened the door, she found the wounded Summers on the porch.
“There was blood and undelivered mail beside her, along with a small bottle of hand sanitizer and a can of pepper spray, Salazar said. There was a bullet hole in the door.
“Salazar called 911 and held Summers’ hand, she said, trying to calm her as they waited for paramedics.”
Said Salazar, “She couldn’t speak. She was hyperventilating. I think she said something about her kid,” a 14-year-old daughter, “and that’s when I started crying.”
“She chose to be brave”
Summers had partnered with friend Melissa Cummings several years earlier to found Missy’s Morsels LLC, a company making “Hand-crafted, artisan, small-batch, gluten free, grain free, anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant dog and cat treats” from rabbit and beef liver.
Said Cummings, via Facebook, “I will be eternally grateful that my good friend had someone who cared enough to try and comfort her. A lot has been reported about Angela and her killer. Ms. Salazar is the best part of that story. She is the hero of the piece. Instead of locking her door after calling 911, she chose to hold Angela’s hand. Her thoughts were not for herself, but for the wounded woman in front of her. She would have been justified if she were afraid that the shooter might come back, but she chose to be brave and do the right thing.”
Summers, a U.S. Postal Service employee since 2018, was pronounced dead at nearby Eskenazi Hospital about 90 minutes after she was shot.
Cushingberry-Mays got a break
Summarized Heavy.com, “Officers with the Indianapolis Metro Police Department quickly obtained a search warrant for 422 North Denny Street. Inside an upstairs bedroom, they found a safe that contained boxes of ammunition that was the ‘same caliber and brand of fired cartridge casing’ found near where Summers was shot. The safe also contained Cushingberry-Mays’ social security card and the title to his vehicle that was parked outside the house.”
Cushingberry-Mays was given an unexplained break by law enforcement in being charged only with second degree murder, since taking a loaded gun with him to confront Summers could reasonably be construed as demonstrating intent to use deadly force, and therefore of premeditation to commit murder.
Had Cushingberry-Mays been charged with first degree murder, he would be facing the federal death penalty.
Victim could not be described as afraid of dogs
Cushingberry-Mays’ defense may contend that Summers made allegedly excessive use of her mace container, both against the Chihuahua and against Cushingberry-Mays himself.
But Summers could not be plausibly described as being inordinately afraid of dogs. Many, if not most, of the many photos of Summers found on Facebook showed her with dogs, including pit bulls. The Missy’s Morsels logo is a drawing of a multi-colored pit bull.
Had Summers been more afraid of dogs––and of dog owners who fail to recognize their obligation to keep their dogs of whatever breed and size from charging people and animals––she might have responded to the multiple threats against her with fewer warnings and by filing criminal complaints.
Chasing & charging
Meanwhile, three hours east, in Greenfield, Ohio, shortly before Summers was shot, a pit bull owner not named in media accounts on April 27, 2020 made a court appearance on charges resulting from an April 24, 2020 incident in which the pit bull allegedly chased a 10-year-old girl up on a car, menaced the child’s mother, charged a police officer, chased another child, then charged the police officer a second time.
The officer shot the pit bull twice the second time he was charged. The pit bull survived.
At the April 27, 2020 hearing, “The judge ordered that the dog must remain in the [owner’s] home, and if outside, must be under control on a leash,” reported Angela Shepherd for the Highland County Press.
“Loves to charge at people to kiss them”
Fumed an anonymous individual believed to be the pit bull owner, on the Highland County Press web site, “This is so gross and unnecessary! The Greenfield police were wrong for this. My pit wouldn’t hurt a fly but she loves to charge at people and knock them over to KISS them! That’s it. So you’re telling me that if a Greenfield police officer saw my dog sprinting at my kids down the street, he could just shoot her, because she was ‘charging.’”
Pointed out ANIMALS 24-7, “Being knocked over is a potentially fatal injury to anyone who hits his/her head on something hard while falling, anyone with osteoporosis, and anyone who might suffer a heart attack. Allowing any dog to charge at people, let alone to knock them over, is grossly irresponsible for any dog owner, and even more so for a pit bull owner, in view that pit bulls have killed 408 Americans just since 2005, and have disfigured more than 4,300.
“You may believe your pit bull is harmless, but the rest of society has substantial cause to believe otherwise, including to shoot your pit bull rather than to risk death or disfigurement.”