William Wingate had been standing on a busy Seattle street corner in July, leaning on a golf club he uses as a cane, when a police cruiser pulled up and the officer inside yelled at Wingate to “put that down.”
The resulting exchange — in which the officer claims that Wingate swung the club at her after she asked him to “shut it down” before she arrested him — was captured on the cruiser’s dashboard camera, the footage of which Seattle Police released this week as it apologized for the 2014 incident.
The response to that video prompted Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole to announce Wednesday that she was ordering a comprehensive review of the officer’s performance during Wingate’s arrest and another incident. A department spokesperson identified the officer as Cynthia Whitlatch.
By Thursday, O’Toole said she had put Whitlatch on desk duty following the discovery of Facebook posts attributed to her. The Stranger reported those comments included her decrying “chronic black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country. I am tired of black peoples paranoia that white people are out to get them.”
Whitlatch is white; Wingate is black.
“Until yesterday I was unaware of Officer Whitlatch’s Facebook posts. I was shocked and disappointed to read her comments,” O’Toole said in a statement posted on the department’s Web site. “We are working to reform the Seattle Police Department, and behavior of this nature seriously undermines our efforts.”
The department did not immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment.
In the video of the July incident, Wingate, who was 69 at the time, says he can’t hear the officer and then is confused by her demand. “What’s going on?” he asks.
“Aren’t you holding a golf club?” the officer asks.
“This is my golf club,” Wingate says.
“I’m not going to take it from you, but it’s a weapon,” the officer says. “Shut it down, please.”
“Why don’t you call somebody, because I’ve been walking with this golf club for 20 years,” he says.
The officer tells Wingate that he’s being recorded, and she goes on to say: “You just swung that golf club at me.”
“I did not,” responds Wingate, who is seen holding a plastic bag in one hand, with the golf club still pointed to the ground.
He turns to passersby, and the officer tells him he’s not free to leave. Eventually, another officer arrives, and Wingate is arrested. He was charged with obstruction and harassment, according to police.
In the police report, as described on the Seattle Department’s crime blotter, an officer “stated she had witnessed the man swing a golf club toward her, striking a stop sign as she drove past him” and that she “ordered him to surrender his golf club,” which he refused to do.
Wingate spent a night in jail. “He’s never been arrested his whole life,” said his lawyer, Susan Mindenbergs. The 70-year-old veteran once served as an Air Force Police Officer and spent 35 years as a bus driver in Washington’s King County, his attorney told The Post. “His relationships with the police have always been cooperative,” Mindenbergs said. “That’s been his experience, so this was dramatically different.”
A public defender recommended Wingate sign an order of continuance in order to leave jail, according to Mindenbergs.
The city attorney’s office filed a charge of unlawful use of a weapon based on the police report, spokeswoman Kimberly Mills told the Stranger, and that if he signed an agreement, “the case would be dismissed after two years if he complied with all conditions ordered by the Seattle Municipal Court judge.”
After the footage went public and the department apologized, Wingate told KIRO that while he doesn’t know whether he was racially profiled, “I know one thing. I’m a black man walking down the street doing nothing, and I got stopped and went to jail by a white police officer.”
“I was scared,” he said. “I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I knew one thing—I was being framed.”
Wingate has filed an administrative claim against the city for $750,000, and Mindenbergs said she is in the process of gathering public documents to prepare for a lawsuit within the next couple of weeks. According to the claim, Wingate has been seeking medical attention for post-traumatic stress.
The incident came to light after local activist and former state lawmaker Dawn Mason found out about the case from a neighbor.
The incident gained some attention in Seattle before police released the video this week. In August, following the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Wingate spoke about his experience at a local NAACP rally. “I had never seen her before in my life,” Wingate said of the officer, the Seattle Times reported.
In light of the incident, the Seattle King County NAACP chapter called for more action from city leaders regarding police abuse. “This goes deeper than any one officer,” a statement read. “At every step along the way, our justice system failed Mr. Wingate. That is what institutional racism looks like.”
Following a 2011 investigation, the Justice Department said it found that the Seattle Police Department “engaged in a pattern or practice of excessive force” and some policies and practices, especially “related to pedestrian encounters, could result in discriminatory policing.” The city settled with Justice, and a federal monitor has been charged with overseeing changes in the department.
O’Toole, who took over as chief in June 2014, said in a statement Thursday: “I was hired because of my track record for reform and my commitment to bias-free policing. I knew this would be a difficult job, but days like this make me even more determined.”