Another day, another video that shows police officers to have lied on a police report. But there’s a twist this time: Two prosecutors also lied. And they did it to set up a guy who was serving lawsuit papers on an officer for a previous incident of police brutality. The story is pretty remarkable. Here’s the setup:
One of the worst days of Douglas Dendinger’s life began with him handing an envelope to a police officer…
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.”
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…
Supported by two of his prosecutors who were at the scene, 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.
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.”
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 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.”…
Now the video is at the heart of a federal civil rights lawsuit against Reed, his two prosecutors Wall and Knight, the Bogalusa officers and Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country’ Seal.
The suit seeks unspecified damages for a host of alleged Constitutional violations: false arrest, false imprisonment, fabricated evidence, perjury, and abuse of due process.
WWL-TV reached out to the defendants for comment, but only Sheriff Seal responded with a statement. He said, “We are confident that all claims against all WPSO deputies will be rejected and dismissed by the court.”
Goyeneche said the legal troubles for some of the witnesses may go beyond the federal lawsuit.
“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.
Cressy, who in addition to working under Reed served as the Mandeville city attorney for 15 years, said the lawyers involved in the case may have additional problems with legal ethics and the bar association.
“It was totally wrong, a 180-degree lie” Cressy said. “So, yeah, they’re going to have problems, certainly the lawyers.”
If we had a real criminal justice system, all of the police officers and the attorneys would be charged with filing a police report and obstruction of justice and the attorneys would be fired and disbarred. But even if this man wins the lawsuit, it’s unlikely that the officers will face any criminal charges or that the attorneys will face any serious sanction from the bar association.