A prelude to all those beloved lawsuits for brutality against police officers is the service of process. As Douglas Dedinger learned, it’s not without its ironic risks.
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.
While most people understand that the process server is just the messenger, Cassard wasn’t inclined to take it in stride.
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.”
Childish stuff, for sure. So the cop accused of brutality behaved like a jerk? Not entirely surprising, particularly when one considers that he’s being sued for brutality. But the “attorneys”? Not just attorneys, but prosecutors. One might hope they would behave like the big boys of the group. One might hope.
“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.”
It’s one thing to behave like jerks in person, throwing the summons back at Dedinger, cursing at him (which can be exhausting). But that’s past in a few seconds and life goes on. Until it doesn’t.
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 gratuitous “80 years” stuff is just gilding the lily. Wouldn’t one year, ten years, any years, for something that didn’t happen be outrageous enough? Do we not care unless stacking maximums gets us past 50?
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.”
Not even the Bogalusa Chief was man enough to keep the children in line. If anything, he proved himself the biggest child, and every grown up knows better than to let a child play with guns. Dedinger, knowing none of this happened, figured “cooler heads will prevail.”
Supported by two of his prosecutors who were at the scene, [former St. Tammany District Attorney Walter] Reed formally charged Dendinger. Both prosecutors, Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, gave statements to the Washington Parish Sheriff’s Office implicating Dendinger.
Just to emphasize, the two prosecutors who gave false statements were Julie Knight and Leigh Anne Wall, so when they try to join the NACDL after being given medals for their dedicated service to law enforcement, they’re given a warm welcome.
The nightmare continued for two years, which is shocking enough in itself, but barely scratches the surface under the circumstances. The charges, manufactured though they were, had the full support of Cassard and his posse:
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.”
But there was one problem with the claims.
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.
Yet, this is where insult is added to injury, as the video didn’t slow Reed’s prosecution down at all.
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.
Dedinger is suing the lot of them, from Reed, his prosecutrixes, the Bogalusa cops, et al., with the video prime as evidence of the plethora of constitutional violations heaped on him. And where are the prosecutions of these liars?
Recently elected St. Tammany District Attorney Warren Montgomery said he has conducted an independent investigation of the case, but declined comment because a lawsuit is pending.
However, as of this week, Wall no longer works at the office, Montgomery said. Knight is still employed there, he said.
As if there weren’t enough ironies involved, prosecutor Julie Knight got her chance to double down:
Knight, a defendant in Dendinger’s suit along with Reed, Wall and others, refused to accept the paperwork from [process server Bridgette] Mentz, according to Mentz’s statement, at one point demanding that the date on the summons be changed. Mentz said she consulted her father and attempted what she called a “drop-serve,” leaving the papers on the desk of Knight’s secretary.
But as Mentz was leaving the courthouse, the deputy at the security checkpoint told her he could not let her go.
It’s not easy to sue the law and order team in Washington Parrish, Louisiana. And Dedinger, in the meantime, has his eye on his rear view mirror wondering when he will next see flashing lights. Given the situation, he’s got good reason to worry.
H/T Aaron Messing