Washington Parish, LA -- A man's 30-second cell phone video has helped to expose an ominously plotted conspiracy within the Louisiana "justice" system.
Two years ago, Douglas Dendinger, 47, accepted an offer of $50 to act as a process server. All he would have to do is hand an envelope containing a lawsuit alleging police brutality to Chad Cassard, a former Bogalusa police officer.
Everything went smoothly. Dendinger handed the envelope off to the former cop in front of a group of police officers and two St. Tammany prosecutors. But then Cassard blew up.
"It was like sticking a stick in a bee's nest." Dendinger 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."
Although he was shocked, Dendinger was still able to leave and simply drove home.
But things would get worse, much 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."
According to WWLT,
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.
That kicked off two years of a "living hell," as Dendinger described it, a period that is now the subject of Dendinger's federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers, attorneys and former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed.
In a scene described in the lawsuit, Dendinger recounted a nervous night handcuffed to a rail at the Washington Parish Jail. He said he was jeered by officers, including Bogalusa Police Chief Joe Culpepper, who whistled the ominous theme song from "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly."
Dendinger remained optimistic, however, as there were several police officers and the two prosecutors who witnessed the handing off of the envelope. Surely this misunderstanding could be resolved once these public servants testified that nothing happened when Dendinger handed the envelope to Cassard.
Unfortunately for Dendinger, things did not get resolved, instead they got even worse.
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The case was given to district attorney Reed who was supported by the two prosecutors at the scene. Both prosecutors, Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, gave statements to the Washington Parish Sheriff's Office implicating Dendinger.
Reed presented 7 witness statements, including the two prosecutors, that claimed Dendinger was guilty.
In her statement to deputies, contained in a police report, 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."
Casssard, in his statement, told deputies, Dendinger "slapped me in the chest."
Washington Parish court attorney Pamela Legendre said "it made such a noise," she thought the officer "had been punched."
Police Chief Culpepper gave a police statement that he witnessed the battery, but in a deposition he said, "I wasn't out there." But that didn't stop Culpepper from characterizing Dendinger's actions as "violence, force."
In a deposition taken by Kaplan, one Bogalusa police officer, Lt. Patrick Lyons, said he witnessed a battery that knocked Cassard back several feet.
"I realized even more at that moment: These people are trying to hurt me," said Dendinger.
And hurt him, they would, except that Dendinger had one critical piece of evidence that would show, without a doubt, that these claims were false.
In order to prove that he had delivered the lawsuit to the former cop, Dendinger asked that his wife and his nephew film the interaction. The two very short and very grainy videos saved Dendinger from spending the rest of his life in prison.
"He'd still be in a world of trouble if he didn't have that film," said David Cressy, a friend of Dendinger who once served as a prosecutor under Reed. "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."
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission and himself a former prosecutor said in regard to the video, "I didn't see a battery, certainly a battery committed that would warrant criminal charges. And more importantly, the attorney general's office didn't see a battery."
"It's a felony to falsify a police report. And this is a police report. And this police report was the basis of charging this individual with serious crimes," Goyeneche said.
The charges against Dendinger were eventually all dropped after the case was referred to the Louisiana Attorney General's Office. Dendinger has since retained legal counsel and filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Reed, his two prosecutors Wall and Knight, the Bogalusa officers and Washington Parish Sheriff Randy 'Country' Seal.
Dendinger said that despite being cleared of all the charges, he's still very worried about what could happen to him next as he pursues this lawsuit against the ones who tried to lock him up. And he should be worried, as no charges nor punishments have been brought against any of the people involved in this criminal conspiracy to deprive a man of his freedom.