Douglas Dendinger, a disabled 47 year-old veteran, was supposed to be headed to prison. Washington Parish La. cops and the prosecutors they were colluding with were going to make sure of that.
In August of 2012, Dendinger was paid $50 to serve a court summons on behalf of his nephew against Bogalusa police officer Chad Cassard for a police brutality lawsuit. But 20 minutes after he carried out the task, police officers showed up to his door, arrested him, and threw him in jail on charges of simple battery, obstruction of justice and intimidating a witness.
The handoff went smoothly, but Dendinger said the reaction from Cassard, and a group of officers and attorneys clustered around him, turned his life upside down.
“It was like sticking a stick in a bee’s nest.” Dendinger, 47, recalled. “They started cursing me. They threw the summons at me. Right at my face, but it fell short. Vulgarities. I just didn’t know what to think. I was a little shocked.”
Not knowing what to make of the blow-up, a puzzled Dendinger drove home. That’s where things went from bad to worse.
“Within about 20 minutes, there were these bright lights shining through my windows. It was like, ‘Oh my God.’ I mean I knew immediately, a police car.”
“And that’s when the nightmare started,” he said. “I was arrested.”
After Dendinger posted bail, he was hopeful that the truth would prevail and the matter would come to a close. After all, a group of police officers and two prosecutors witnessed the entire exchange.
Supported by two of his prosecutors who were at the scene, [St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed] formally charged Dendinger. Both prosecutors, Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, gave statements to the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office implicating Dendinger.
With the bill of information, Dendinger’s attorney Philip Kaplan said he got a bad feeling.
“It wasn’t fun and games,” Kaplan said. “They had a plan. The plan was to really go after him a put him away. That’s scary.”
The case file that was handed to Reed and his office was bolstered by seven witness statements given to Washington Parish deputies, including the two from Reed’s prosecutors.
The plan was clear: Reed planned to frame Dendinger, even if it meant fabricating the incident and using falsified statements.
“We could hear the slap as he hit Cassard’s chest with an envelope of papers…This was done in a manner to threaten and intimidate everyone involved,” Prosecutor Julie Knight said in her statement.
Cassard doubled down on that account, saying Dendinger “slapped” him in the chest.
Washington Parish court attorney Pamela Legendre claimed the alleged slap “made such a noise” that she thought Reed “had been punched.”
What the officers and attorneys did not know was that Dendinger had one critical piece of evidence on his side: grainy cell phone videos shot by his wife and nephew. Dendinger said he thought of recording the scene at the last minute as a way of showing he had completed the task of serving the summons.
In the end, the two videos may have saved Dendinger from decades in prison. From what can be seen on the clips, Dendinger never touches Cassard, who calmly takes the envelope and walks back into the courthouse, handing Wall the envelope.
“He’d still be in a world of trouble if he didn’t have that film,” said David Cressy, a former prosecutor who served under Reed and a friend of Dendinger. “It was him against all of them. They took advantage of that and said all sorts of fictitious things happened. And it didn’t happen. It would still be going like that had they not had the film.”
The video’s existence has launched a federal civil rights lawsuit against Reed, his two prosecutors Wall and Knight, the officers who provided false statements, and Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country’ Seal.
The suit seeks unspecified damages for civil rights violations including “false arrest, false imprisonment, fabricated evidence, perjury, and abuse of due process.”
Watch WWLTV’s report on the story in the video below: