Sam Swicegood slipped a fiberglass stake up his sleeve before he stepped out of his Chevy Lumina to deliver a pizza in Glen Burnie — just in case.
When Swicegood walked toward a house on Lincoln Court about 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14, a group of boys surrounded him and one punched him in the face, according to police. Swicegood said he remembers swinging the stake — left in his car from a dismantled tent — and using the screen door on the empty house as a shield. The assailants ran away empty-handed.
Swicegood said what he got in return was a demotion.
About a week after the would-be robbery, he said, he received a visit from Pizza Hut corporate management, who told him that he had violated the company's no-weapons policy for drivers and was being reassigned to a position in the kitchen.
"You have pizza delivery drivers going into very bad neighborhoods with pockets full of money," Swicegood said. "I think if you punish them for defending themselves, you are doing them a great disservice."
With the move, he said, his shifts were cut from more than 30 hours a week to about 20, and instead of making an average of $11 to $12 an hour with tips, he pulls in $7.50 in the kitchen, where he slices the pies and boxes them up.
Pizza Hut spokesman Doug Terfehr said Swicegood wasn't demoted and his hours weren't cut.
"As you would expect, nothing is more important to us than the safety of our team members and our customers," Terfehr said in a statement. "Regarding our driver Sam Swicegood, despite what was reported, he was not demoted, his wages were not lowered and his hours were not cut.
"He remains employed with Pizza Hut and the situation is being handled internally with the utmost concern for his well-being."
Terfehr declined to discuss the company's employee policies or whether Pizza Hut has a no-weapons rule for drivers.
The safety of food delivery drivers is an issue nationally, although statistics are sparse. The Association of Pizza Delivery Drivers reports that at least one U.S. deliveryman is assaulted on the job each day, according to data the group assembled from news accounts.
In Baltimore alone, police said 66 food delivery robberies occurred between last January and late October.
Swicegood, who has worked for Pizza Hut since November, said he started concealing the tent stake in his sleeve after he learned of a deliveryman who was robbed in Glen Burnie.
On Dec. 4, a 46-year-old man was approached by two men when he tried to deliver pizzas to a house on Leprechaun Lane in Glen Burnie, police said. The driver handed over his money when one of the suspects displayed a knife and demanded his cash. They took the pizzas, too.
In Swicegood's case, police found three of the juveniles, a 13-year-old boy and two 14-year-old boys, hiding. They were arrested and charged with robbery.
Swicegood, a government and politics major at Anne Arundel Community College, said he signed Pizza Hut's no-weapons policy when he was hired as a driver, but in the fallout from his situation he has asked the company to clarify what constitutes a weapon.
"I think that what happened to me was unjust," Swicegood said. "Honestly, I just want my job back. The money I made was enough to live off. I have bills like everyone else."
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