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Video Saves Process Server from Hefty Jail Sentence

We often write about ways in which process servers can protect themselves from violence, Motions to Quash in litigation, and data attacks. Today’s post is going to cover how a process server protected himself from unscrupulous allegations, which sadly, could happen to any process server at any time.

Because of the nature of the work, process servers are often in a position to deliver bad news, and recipients of the documents often displace their anger on the process server. By recording service or bringing a witness, you not only provide a record that the service was completed, but you also can protect yourself from the unthinkable — false allegations that could lead to your arrest. Of course, prior to recording a service, be sure to check your state’s laws regarding recording audio (Audio Surveillance Laws by State) or video, as some states have specific legislation prohibiting it.

recording service attempts

In 2012, Douglas Dendinger, a stand-in process server and Army veteran, decided to have his wife, along with his nephew, Logan Mills, record what should have been a simple hand-off of documents. It was a decision that saved him from living the rest of his life in a jail cell. We interviewed Dendinger’s civil rights attorney, Philip Kaplan, and obtained court records that detailed exactly what happened to Dendinger.

Dendinger’s nephew, Logan Mills, had previously been arrested for robbery and was at the courthouse for those criminal proceedings. While the criminal case against Mills was still pending, Mills had filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against Louisiana’s Bogalusa Police Department, alleging excessive force following that arrest. Although other officers had been previously served the documents pertaining to the civil case, former Bogalusa police officer Chad Cassard, who was at the courthouse in the capacity as a witness for the criminal case, had not yet been served. Dendinger was there to deliver a summons and complaint about the civil case to Cassard.

I had the sense that since Cassard also worked offshore, that if he didn’t get him served at the courthouse, I wouldn’t get him served at all.

Attorney Philip Kaplan

It’s important to note that Dendinger’s nephew’s legal counsel (who is also Dendinger’s current legal counsel), Attorney Philip Kaplan, had previously attempted to have Cassard served at the Bogalusa Police Department, but service was refused, and he was running out of time due to a 120 day limitation set forth by the courts. In an interview with Attorney Philip Kaplan, he explained that “I had the sense that since Cassard also worked offshore, that if he didn’t get him served at the courthouse, I wouldn’t get him served at all.” Melanie Mills, Logan Mills’ mother, advised that Dendinger would be available to complete the service. So, in an effort to complete service prior to the deadline, Dendinger, agreed to hand off the court documents to Cassard.

Per Philip Kaplan’s specific instruction, Dendinger waited outside on the courthouse steps for Chad Cassard to exit the building. After Dendinger approached Cassard, Police Captain Kendall Bullen verbally assaulted Dendinger, snatched the envelope containing the summons and complaint about Cassard, and threw the documents on the ground. They landed on the wet pavement, and Dendinger walked away. For most process servers, the story would end here. But for Douglas Dendinger, a nightmare was just beginning.

In the hours that followed, Pamela Jean Legendre, staff attorney for Judge Hand, called the attorney representing Dendinger’s nephew and alleged, using profanity, that there had been an assault on a police officer and intimidation of a witness — both felony allegations under Louisiana law. Dendinger was subsequently arrested at his home by Washington Parish Deputy Steven Galloway under those allegations.

Process Server Framed Douglas Dendiger

When they reached the station, Dendinger was greeted by a welcoming committee of various public servants who laughed at him as he walked by. According to court documents, Chief Joe Culpepper whistled the theme from Clint Eastwood’s movie, The Good, The Bad & The Ugly, winked, and laughed at Dendinger.

Dendinger was kept in handcuffs secured to a rail for approximately three hours. The evidence began stacking up against him, as witness statement after witness statement came in from various public officials and public servants, seven in total — all alleging that Dendinger had assaulted a police officer and intimidated a witness (Chad Cassard was a witness in the criminal case against Dendinger’s nephew).

Nearly a year later in mid-August 2013, formal charges were filed against Dendinger by the Washington Parish District Attorney. The charges included three criminal offenses filed in the 22nd Judicial District: Obstruction of Justice (Felony – La R.S. § 14:130.1); Intimidation of a Witness (Felony – La R.S. § 14:129.1); and Battery of a Police Officer (Misdemeanor – La R.S. § 14.33). Dendinger was facing a jail sentence of over 50 years due to Louisiana statutes.

The key question is that if Dendinger had actually assaulted an officer — in front of several officers — why wasn’t he arrested at the time of the alleged assault? And why did it take nearly a year before he was formally charged? The answer is that the charges were completely false. He wasn’t arrested immediately because it just didn’t happen.

Kaplan explained the severity of Dendinger’s situation: “He was in a jurisdiction of Washington Parish, which has a high prosecution success rate. Under [District Attorney] Walter Reed’s regime, there was a reputation in that Parish for successful prosecution and harsh sentences. In [Dendinger’s] mind, he is thinking, ‘These guys really want to put me away,' which could be 50 years, which would be the rest of his life. This was not a game. They weren’t trying to scare him — they really wanted to prosecute him. What he realized was that with the prosecution team and the jury that they had a shot at getting a conviction. He knew they were planning on going forward and carrying this thing out.”

In [Dendinger’s] mind, he is thinking, ‘These guys really want to put me away,' which could be 50 years, which would be the rest of his life. This was not a game. They weren’t trying to scare him — they really wanted to prosecute him.

Attorney Philip Kaplan

With such hefty allegations, it would seem obvious that Dendinger would have been personally served with the court documents, but even that didn’t happen. Court records show service was attempted on the bondsman that Dendinger used, despite having knowledge of Dendinger’s home address. Personal service was never attempted on Douglas Dendinger.

The nightmare ended when District Attorney Walter Reed recused his office due to a conflict of interest in the case (two district attorneys who were present when Cassard was served were also witnesses to the criminal charges against Dendinger), and the case was passed on to the Attorney General of the State of Louisiana. Dendinger’s criminal defense attorney prepared a package that included the cell phone video of the service. The Attorney General ultimately dismissed the case.

Process server wrongly charged

Dendinger’s quick thinking and preparation saved him from almost certain jail time, as the recording was the primary piece of evidence that exonerated him. You can view the video below and see what happened that day, plus hear from Dendinger and Attorney Philip Kaplan in an interview conducted by Michael Perlstein of Louisiana TV news station WWL.

If you are having trouble viewing video, click here

Currently, Dendinger has a civil rights lawsuit against the City of Bogalusa, former Bogalusa police officer Chad Cassard, and all the witnesses who falsified statements that led to his arrest. Beyond making the false report that could have landed Dendinger in jail for 50 years, he was also verbally assaulted while acting as a process server, which is a punishable offense. Kaplan and Dendinger are doing their best to bring them to justice, making them accountable for their actions.

Motions to dismiss the case have been filed by the witnesses and the City of Bogalusa, but a determination by the judge has not yet been made. Kaplan explained that “There will be discovery and depositions, and we’re talking about schedules right now. Even though there are motions filed, we are proceeding right now with discovery.”

When a process server is faced with serving documents on an attorney, law enforcement, or someone with perceived legal authority, it’s often overlooked the danger that the individual in question could make false allegations against the process server. We recommend that every process server takes adequate steps to ensure proof of what actually happened. Other ways process servers can protect themselves are outlined in Tips For Preventing Process Server Assault.

Process servers should be reminded that they are serving process in connection with parties with whom the other side may have major differences, and they have to be aware that at times they may be viewed as adversaries.

Attorney Philip Kaplan

For process servers, Kaplan offered this word of advice: “Process servers should be reminded that they are serving process in connection with parties with whom the other side may have major differences, and they have to be aware that at times they may be viewed as adversaries.”

For more information on process server safety, visit Promoting Assault Awareness and Protective Regulations for Servers (PAAPRS).

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