Disabled veteran Douglas Dendinger (47) might have been serving time in a Louisiana prison if not for the foresight of his wife to record an incident after which he was falsely accused of battery and witness intimidation by Louisiana law officers and prosecutors. It was on August 20, 2012 when Dendinger served a court summons against former police officer Chad Cassard of Bogalusa LA in a police brutality lawsuit. According to reports, Dendinger handed a white envelope containing court documents to Cassard and then went on his way. However, just 20 minutes later, police came to his home and arrested him.
Charged with simple battery, obstruction of justice, and witness intimidation, Dendinger was jailed. The latter two charges are felonies that carry a maximum sentence each of twenty years in prison. Dendinger calculated that he could have spent 80 years in prison as a result as a multiple offender. He spent a night handcuffed to a rail at the Washington Parish jail where he was jeered by officers, including Bogalusa Police Chief Joe Culpepper, who whistled the theme song from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
Dendinger had a prior cocaine conviction and, since two of the above charges are felonies, there was a chance that he would have an extensive prison sentence as a repeat offender. He was booked with simple battery, along with two felonies: obstruction of justice and intimidating a witness, both of which carry a maximum of 20 years in prison. Because of a prior felony cocaine conviction, Dendinger calculated that he could be hit with 80 years behind bars as a multiple offender.
However, since two prosecutors and several police officers had witnessed his delivery of the summons, Dendinger was confident that he would be released for lack of cause.
It was a year later that Walter Reed, who was then St Tammany Parish District Attorney, brought charges against Dendinger that were backed by two prosecutors who claimed that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard. In addition, seven witness statements also supported the prosecutor’s case. Cassard wrote a voluntary statement that Dendinger allegedly “slapped him in the chest” when he served the summons. Staff attorney Pamel Legendere, who witnessed the delivery of summons, claimed that she thought Dendinger had punched Cassard. Bogalusa police chief Culpepper claimed that Dendinger had used “violence” and “force.” Yet another witness claimed in a deposition that Dendinger used enough force while serving the summons that Cassard flew back several feet. Prosecutors Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, who were at the scene of the delivery of summons, also supported Reed.
In a statement to deputies, Prosecutor Knight stated, “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.” Washington Parish court attorney Legendre said that the supposed slap “made such a noise,” she thought the officer “had been punched.”
Dendinger’s attorney, Philip Kaplan, said that he believes the plan conceived by the prosecutors and law officers was to put his client in jail. Kaplan also made the point that if Dendinger had acted aggressively while serving the summons, it is curious that the law officers supposedly present did not stop him.
Fortunately, Dendinger’s wife and nephew recorded video of the serving of summons on their cellphones to prove that the court papers had been served. Video of the event shows Dendinger giving the summons to Cassard and then walking away. The video did not show that Dendinger slapped anyone or showed aggressive behavior. Also, the video evidence shows that the witness who claimed that Denginger pushed Cassard back several feet had his back turned at the time.
Once District Attorney Reed was obliged to recuse his office from Dendinger’s case, the matter was referred to the Louisiana attorney general. The charges were then dropped. The prosecutors and law enforcement officials involved in the Dendinger case may face serious charges of violating ethics. In addition, it is a felony to falsify police reports. However, no charges nor punishments have yet been meted out against the persons involved in Dendinger’s nightmare. While Dendinger has retained legal counsel and has filed a civil rights suit against Reed, prosecutors Wall and Knight, Bogalusa officers and Washington Parish Sheriff Randy ‘Country’ Seal, he is reportedly still worried about his safety.
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