The latest example of cellphone video vindicating someone from false charges is a doozy. It comes from Washington Parish, La., and WWL TV.
One of the worst days of Douglas Dendinger’s life began with him handing an envelope to a police officer.
In order to help out his family and earn a quick $50, Dendinger agreed to act as a process server, giving a brutality lawsuit filed by his nephew to Chad Cassard as the former Bogalusa police officer exited the Washington Parish Courthouse.
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 not only arrested, he was also charged with two felonies and a misdemeanor. A prior drug charge on his record meant he was potentially looking at decades in prison. Seven witnesses backed up the police account that Dendinger had assaulted Cassard.
But Dendinger had asked his wife and nephew to record him serving the papers. It was a last minute decision, but one that may have saved him his freedom.
From what can be seen on the clips, Dendinger never touches Cassard, who calmly takes the envelope and walks back into the courthouse, handing [prosecutor Leigh Anne] 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 [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.”
Dendinger spent nearly a year waiting for trial, racking up attorney’s fees. As a disabled Army veteran on a fixed income, Dendinger said the case stretched him financially, but in his eyes, he was fighting for his life.
After nearly a year passed, his attorneys forced Reed to recuse his office. The case was referred to the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office, which promptly dropped the charges.
Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission and himself a former prosecutor, studied the videos. He did not hesitate in his assessment.
“I didn’t see a battery, certainly a battery committed that would warrant criminal charges,” Goyeneche said. “And more importantly, the attorney general’s office didn’t see a battery.”
That’s all well and good. And Dendinger has since filed a federal civil rights lawsuit. I hope he collects.
But here’s my question: Why aren’t the seven witnesses to Dendinger’s nonexistent assault on Cassard already facing felony charges? Why are all but one of the cops who filed false reports still wearing badges and collecting paychecks? Why aren’t the attorneys who filed false reports facing disbarment? Dendinger’s prosecutors both filed false reports, then prosecuted Dendinger based on the reports they knew were false. They should be looking for new careers — after they get out of jail.
If a group of regular citizens had pulled this on someone, they’d all likely be facing criminal conspiracy charges on top of the perjury and other charges. So why aren’t these cops and prosecutors?
I could be wrong, but my guess is that they’ll all be let off due to “professional courtesy” or some sort of exercise of prosecutorial discretion. And so the people who ought to be held to a higher standard than the rest of us will once again be held to a lower one.