Douglas Dendinger, a disabled Army veteran, decided to help out his family and earn $50 by delivering court summons to a police officer in Washington Parish, Louisiana.
His nephew had filed a police brutality lawsuit against former Bogalusa police officer Chad Cassard. Dendinger served Cassard papers as he exited the Washington Parish Courthouse.
"It was like sticking a stick in a bee's nest," Dendinger, 47, told WWL. “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.”
Just 20 minutes after he drove home, Dendinger was arrested for simple battery, obstruction of justice and intimidating a witness. Dendinger already had a felony on his record and realized he was facing up to 80 years behind bars.
For two years, Dendinger had to battle with police and lawyers bent on sending him to prison for crimes he didn’t commit. Everyone who was present when Dendinger served Cassard said he slapped the officer in the chest and ran from the scene, even though Dendinger’s disability prevents him from running.
As the allegations against Dendinger began to mount, his saving grace was a cellphone video shot by his wife and nephew. The video captured Dendinger delivering the court papers, proving he never hit Cassard.
"He'd still be in a world of trouble if he didn't have that film,” said David Cressy, a friend of Dendinger who worked under former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter 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."
The case against Dendinger was referred to the Louisiana Attorney General's Office, where all charges against him were dropped. "I didn't see a battery, certainly a battery committed that would warrant criminal charges," said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission and a former prosecutor. "And more importantly, the attorney general's office didn't see a battery.”
The video that exonerated Dendinger is now the focus of a federal civil rights lawsuit against Reed, his prosecutors Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, who gave statements implicating Dendinger, the Bogalusa officers and Washington Parish Sheriff Randy "Country" Seal.
The lawsuit alleges many constitutional violations, including false arrest, false imprisonment, fabricated evidence, perjury and abuse of due process.
Philip Kaplan, Dendinger’s lawyer, is still accumulating evidence in the case, and almost all of the defendants didn’t comment on the pending lawsuit.
"We are confident that all claims against all WPSO deputies will be rejected and dismissed by the court," Sheriff Seal said in a statement to WWL.