The defense attorney for a La Pine man recently acquitted of an attempted kidnapping charge sharply criticized the Bend Police Department’s investigation into allegations that his client lured a 2-year-old boy from a Bend Wal-Mart.
Dennis Wayne Anderson Jr. was in court Wednesday on an unrelated mail theft charge and declined to discuss his recent acquittal. But in an interview the day before, his attorney — Tim Fleming of Bend-based Crabtree & Rahmsdorff — said Bend Police investigators conducted an incomplete investigation before arresting his client.
Bend Police Chief Jim Porter was not available Wednesday to comment on the case.
In a news release sent out Dec. 13, Bend Police claimed a store employee — Toni Ruffner — witnessed Anderson try to leave a Bend Wal-Mart with the young boy. The release, written by Sgt. Todd Fletcher, said Anderson was reportedly following the boy around the store, mirroring his actions. It said Anderson contacted the young boy and “conversed” with him before walking toward the exit. The release claims police reviewed surveillance footage and identified Anderson, and later arrested him.
Ruffner, the Wal-Mart customer service manager, testified that she saw the young boy run past her by himself. She asked where his mom was, and he pointed. Anderson then walked past the boy, Ruffner testified, and said “Come on buddy, let’s go.”
Video surveillance footage showed the encounter, which lasted seconds. Anderson made a sort of sweeping wave with his arm as he passed the young boy, and then he walked out of the view of the camera as the boy ran toward his mom.
Fleming said Ruffner wasn’t sure what she heard at the time, and then bounced it off another employee, who then called the police.
“That’s how this whole mess started,” Fleming said. “She talked to another employee because she wasn’t sure what she saw.”
Fleming said when originally questioned by police, Anderson told them he just greeted the boy, but never asked the boy to come with him.
Fleming said the family of the boy left the store without knowing anything had taken place. Police later came to their home and told them a man tried to lure the boy out of the store and showed them pictures of Anderson.
“Once the police provided that information, then the family started to believe that they had seen things that were clearly disproven by the video,” Fleming said.
The family then agreed Anderson had been around them in the store at other points, specifically in the dairy aisle.
“The video shows that Mr. Anderson was on the opposite side of the store from the grocery,” Fleming said, pointing out that police failed to obtain video to see if it could corroborate statements from the family and other witnesses at the store.
Overall, Anderson was in the store for about 15 minutes, but police only obtained about a 30-second clip of video from Wal-Mart, Fleming said.
The conflicting evidence was shown during trial and apparently angered some of the jurors.
Fleming said after the trial two jurors contacted him to vent their frustration with the investigation. One complained that the case against Anderson was weak, and the other that the investigation was poorly conducted.
Subsequent video evidence clearly disproved witness statements, Fleming said, and those witnesses ended up not being called by the prosecution at trial. Fleming questioned why the prosecution didn’t just dismiss the case when the full amount of video evidence directly contradicted the case Bend Police had handed over.
“Why the state didn’t dismiss the case after they were provided with the evidence that irrefutably showed that their witnesses were wrong is not really clear,” Fleming said. “I don’t know if it was just the inertia of the case, I don’t know if it was the original press coverage that it got, but the state said, ‘We’re just going to let the jury decide.’”
Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel said cases come in with a variety of evidence: Some have a confession and video evidence; some have witness testimony. He said his office declines to prosecute about 20 percent of the cases it receives due to lack of evidence.
“I believed there was sufficient evidence, and the grand jury agreed,” he said.
Ultimately it’s up to the jury, and he said he respects the jury’s verdict.
“I don’t view my job as obtaining convictions,” Hummel said. “I view my job as assuring a fair process.”
Anderson was released from jail at the conclusion of his trial, nearly four months after being arrested. However, his legal issues are not fully behind him, as he is still charged with six felonies related to alleged mail theft before Christmas. Anderson was charged with the theft just days after being arrested in the attempted kidnapping case. On Wednesday, he had a plea hearing postponed until late May.
— Reporter: 541-383-0376, firstname.lastname@example.org