Washington Parish, LA resident and disabled veteran Douglas Dendinger’s life was flipped upside-down around two years ago when he agreed to serve a court summons to former police officer Chad Cassard, who was accused of brutalizing Dendinger’s nephew. In exchange for $50, Dendinger agreed to deliver the paperwork to the ex-officer as he left a court hearing at the Washington Parish Courthouse. As Dendinger carried out the routine legal procedure, the reaction of a group of police officers and prosecutors standing by alarmed him. He told WWL-TV, “It was like sticking a stick in a bee’s nest… 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.”
Afterward, Dendinger went straight home. Upon his arrival, the situation escalated. “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… I was arrested.” Dendinger, who had a prior conviction, was charged with simple battery, intimidating a witness, and obstruction of justice, a concoction of charges so serious that he faced 80 years behind bars, a virtual life sentence.
Initially, Dendinger thought the charges had been some kind of mix up, as many police officers were there to witness the fact that he did not commit a crime. However, it eventually became clear that those on the scene had fabricated charges against him, accusing him of physically attacking the summons recipient. Two St. Tammany prosecutors, Leigh Anne Wall and Julie Knight, gave statements to police implicating Dendinger. Said Knight in a police report on the incident, “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.” Ex-officer Chad Cassard also said that Dendinger had slapped him in the chest, and Washington Parish court attorney Pamela Legendre likened the paperwork hand-off to a punch. Local Police Chief Joe Culpepper even said that he had witnessed the fabricated attack, though he later backtracked and said that he was not present.
Astonishingly, a routine attempt to serve court paperwork in public was being falsely portrayed as a violent crime by public officials in an attempt to punish Dendinger for serving the ex-cop with a lawsuit. Former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter Reed filed charges against Dendinger. Seven witnesses gave statements characterizing the paperwork hand-off as a violent attack. Philip Kaplan, Dendinger’s lawyer, said, “They had a plan. The plan was to really go after him and put him away. That’s scary.”
However, the conspiracy against Dendinger began to fall apart when his wife produced cell phone video of the hand-off, which Dendinger had her take in an effort to prove he had delivered the paperwork. Kaplan pushed for then-District Attorney Reed to recuse himself of the case, and it was transferred to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, where the charges were dropped after officials reviewed the cell phone video of the incident, seen in the above-embedded video by WWL-TV.
The disabled Dendinger spent over a year fighting the charges and incurred significant legal fees. He is suing Washington Parish Sheriff Randy “Country” Seal, former District Attorney Walter Reed, prosecutors Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, and the police officers on the scene for perjury, abuse of due process, false arrest, false imprisonment, and fabricated evidence. Charges have yet to be filed against the public officials who fabricated charges against Dendinger. Falsifying a police report is a felony.
David Cressy, a former prosecutor, told WWL-TV, “He’d still be in a world of trouble if he didn’t have that film… 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.”
Sheriff Randy Seal issued a statement on the lawsuit, saying, “We are confident that all claims against all WPSO deputies will be rejected and dismissed by the court.”