This is a long post, but it warrants it.
It is an of just how bad our police are, even in a liberal city like Seattle. Many of these examples appear to involve racism, white cops misusing their authority over African-Americans. Examples are often dismissed by police supporters over some ambiguity or another. What makes the following example so compelling is not the extremes of violence (none take place) but the clarity of the power dynamic, and the clarity of how easy it is for cops to misuse the power granted to them.
Arrested for Having a Golf Club
We learn that 70-year-old Air Force veteran (twenty years of service) and retired Seattle bus driver William Wingate had a daily habit of walking and using a golf club like a cane. He typically took a walk to pick a newspaper. Wingate was not unknown in the neighborhood. He had no arrest record. He was not using drugs. He wasn’t even wearing a hoodie. The day was sunny and clear, the video in focus and the audio clear.
But Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer Cynthia Whitlatch pulled over her patrol car, got out, and yelled at Wingate to drop his golf club. The incident was caught on her vehicle’s dash-cam video recording system. Unlike some recorded incidents, where what happened before the encounter was not recorded, in this case we have a full 1:40 on tape of nothing happening.
Officer Whitlatch insists that the recording instead would show Wingate swinging his golf club at her and hitting a stop sign with it. According to the Seattle Police Department, there exists no video to back up this claim.
Nonetheless, Whitlatch, standing behind her car, shouts at Wingate to drop his golf club 17 times, and claims that “it is a weapon.”
“You just swung that golf club at me,” Whitlatch yells.
“No, I did not!” exclaims Wingate.
“Right back there,” Whitlatch says back. “It was on audio and video tape.”
You be the judge.
(The action begins at 1:40 on the video, but the fact that nothing happens prior to that is important to understanding how wrong this all is)
If you don’t see the embedded video, it is also online here.
Welcome to the Judicial System
Eventually, she tells him he’s going to be arrested and charged with obstruction. She calls for backup. A second officer arrives and Wingate promptly hands over the golf club. Nonetheless, the officers went on to handcuff him. Police walked him down the street to the East Precinct, where the desk sergeant approved the decision to book Wingate into jail on harassment and obstruction charges.
While still handcuffed, Wingate had difficulty stepping up and into the back of the paddy wagon. On video, an officer can be seen sliding a stool toward the back of the vehicle, using his foot. Wingate spent the night in jail.
The next day, city prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of a weapon against Wingate based solely on the arresting officer’s incident report. In that report, the officer stated she was “fearful of being assaulted by him.”
Wingate agreed to a plea agreement after being told by a public defender “If you sign this stipulated order of continuance, it will all be over, basically.”
Finally, a rational head entered the story. Two months after the arrest a municipal judge dismissed the case following public outcry that attracted both social media and a private lawyer.
Maybe It Was All Just a Mistake?
So maybe Officer Whitlatch just made a mistake. You know, pressure of the moment. Maybe on a bright sunny day she thought she saw an elderly African-American man swing a golf club at her, when no such thing happened. Maybe. But, as prosecutors say when they bring up a suspect’s past history in court, let’s look at the record.
Officer Whitlatch was one of 126 police officers who sued the government last year, at both the federal and city level, to block the Department of Justice–ordered use of force policies. The SPD is under a federal consent decree and is being forced to address the DOJ’s concerns over racial bias and its finding that Seattle police routinely and unconstitutionally use excessive force. Officer Whitlatch and the others claimed in their suit that the new policy will result in citizens and officers being “killed.” They said the regulations require cops to “under-react to threats of harm until we have no choice but to overreact.”
Whitlatch’s ex-girlfriend, who claims she spoke up because both she and her father were police officers, claims Whitlatch made racist comments about black people she’d encountered while on patrol and, in the spring of 2005, stole marijuana from police evidence that the couple then smoked together.
About one month after she arrested Wingate for his golf club, Officer Whitlatch took to Facebook to share some thoughts. While protests raged in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting death of African-American Michael Brown, Whitlatch wrote she was tired of “black peoples paranoia” and wrote of “chronic black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country.”
The Next Steps
The next part is as predictable as day following night.
– Officer Whitlatch remains employed by the police department, albeit on desk duty. Whitlatch was not disciplined. She received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be “an appropriate resolution.”
– The Seattle Police Department insists racial bias played no role in the incident.
– Wingate is suing the city for $750,000 claiming violations of his civil rights. Should he prevail, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the settlement.