Tuesday, in advance of “a media outlet” reporting on video released “as a result of a public disclosure request,” SPD posted this update its Blotter blog with a line you don’t see every day in police announcements: “Deputy Chief Best personally met with the man, returned his golf club, and offered an apology for his arrest.”
Wednesday, The Stranger’s Ansel Herz reported on this video of Officer Cynthia Whitlach’s July 2014 arrest at 12th and Pike of William Wingate, a black, 70-year-old veteran who happens to take very long walks while carrying a golf club as a kind of multi-purpose walking stick:
On the video, Officer Whitlach can be heard insisting that the recording would show Wingate swinging his golf club at her and hitting a stop sign with it. According to the SPD, there exists no video to back up this claim. (SPD did not make Whitlach available for comment.)
“The allegation that he swung at the police car,” said city council member Bruce Harrell, who subsequently got involved in the case, “wasn’t corroborated by any other facts and was not caught on any video. What was caught on video was him minding his own business with the golf club at his side.”
Whitlach, 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,” Whitlach yells.
“No, I did not!” exclaims Wingate.
“Right back there,” Whitlach says back. “It was on audio and video tape.”
Wingate ended up in jail and charged with unlawful use of a weapon for the incident on the same block as East Precinct’s 12th and Pine headquarters. According to muni court records, he agreed to a conditional continuance. In September, a judge dismissed the case at the “satisfactory completion” of the agreement.
CHS has posted our recordings of East Precinct radio traffic from the minutes before and after the arrest. While in the video the officer describes seeing Wingate swing his club at her as she drove by 11th and Pike, you’ll note (around the 18-minute mark) that she never verbally reports any incident preceding the stop:
The Seattle Police Department insists racial bias played no role in the incident, the Stranger reports, adding that Wingate has filed a claim with the city for damages.
SPD says the officer was disciplined in the incident with counseling, a course of action that must be formally approved by the chain of command including East Precinct’s Capt. Pierre Davis who is also black. “The officer who made the arrest received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be an appropriate resolution,” SPD writes.
UPDATE 9:00 PM: SPD Chief Kathleen O’Toole has issued a response to the incident and says Capt. Davis has been “directed” to report on the decision to discipline Officer Whitlatch with counseling:
Today I heard many concerns from community members about the conduct of an SPD officer assigned to the East Precinct. These concerns are related to two incidents that occurred during the summer of 2014, one of which was detailed previously by our department. I have directed East Precinct commander Captain Pierre Davis to prepare a comprehensive report, to include his assessment of the officer’s performance and any supervisory measures that were taken to address her actions in these incidents.
In the statement, O’Toole references “two incidents” involving Whitlach from the summer 2014. It’s not yet clear what other incident she is referring to.
UPDATE 1/29/15 8:55 AM: A spokesperson for SPD has clarified that the second Whitlatch incident being investigated involves social media posts in a matter that was investigated by the Office of Professional Accountability but ultimately referred to Whitlatch’s supervisor. Here is one example of a post allegedly attributable to Whitlatch:
— Uncle Nph (@DJNphared) January 29, 2015
UPDATE 1/29/15 2:55 PM: O’Toole has issued another statement saying she is “disappointed” by Whitlatch’s Facebook posts and has ordered the officer to be removed from public patrol during the department’s review of her actions and the discipline her superiors decided was warranted in the cases:
Until yesterday I was unaware of Officer Whitlatch’s Facebook posts. I was shocked and disappointed to read her comments. We are working to reform the Seattle Police Department, and behavior of this nature seriously undermines our efforts. Today, I have taken these immediate steps:
- I have ordered a comprehensive review of the cases involving this officer
- I have transferred the officer to an administrative assignment, pending the outcome of the investigations, where she will have no interaction with the public.
- I have communicated with Office of Professional Accountability Director Pierce Murphy, who is launching an independent investigation.
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. I will continue to work with Mayor Ed Murray, the City Council, the Department of Justice, the Monitoring Team, SPD members, the Community Police Commission and the greater Seattle community to move this organization forward.
Together we will address our challenges head-on, we will accomplish our goals, and we will be stronger in the end.