The Seattle Police Department announced Tuesday that officer Cynthia Whitlatch has been fired for “sustained policy violations involving bias, abuse of police discretion, and escalation of a contact” for her July 2014 arrest of William Wingate, a black, 70-year-old veteran who happens to take very long walks while carrying a golf club:
Officer Cynthia Whitlatch was served today with a termination notice for sustained policy violations involving bias, abuse of police discretion, and escalation of a contact on July 9, 2014.
Earlier this summer, the Office of Professional Accountability recommended that Whitlatch be terminated for her handling of the arrest.
In the 2014 incident, 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. Whitlatch claimed Wingate had threatened her with the club and was hitting a stop sign. 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. In January 2015, SPD tried to put a happier spin on the incident by announcing an apology and the return of Wingate’s club. But as video of the incident emerged, a much different picture of the arrest was formed. Protest and lawsuits would follow.
Whitlatch’s behavior on social media also drew scrutiny and criticism.
— [dēˈjā infəˈred] (@DJNphared) January 29, 2015
Meanwhile, a civil lawsuit brought on behalf of Wingate is still in the courts with a trial date set for next spring.
“I can’t understand why. I (have) never done anything to this woman,” Wingate told the crowd at a January 2015 rally. “I hope something comes of this.”
Whitlatch is an 18-year veteran of the SPD force. While Whitlatch’s chain of command including then East Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis supervised the situation around the arrest and subsequent investigation, no other SPD employees have faced discipline for their parts in the incident.
“This particular case-involving bias, abuse of police discretion, and escalation of a contact that should have been resolved without any confrontation-is of great concern to the Seattle community and the Seattle Police Department,” Chief of Police Kathleen O’Toole writes in her letter to the mayor and the City Council regarding the sustained findings. O’Toole said restoring community trust in SPD through carrying out orders of the federal consent decree — a DOJ mandated process to overhaul the department in the wake of several excessive force violations by SPD officers — was one of her first goals when she took over the department last year.
O’Toole’s termination order includes a strong criticism of Whitlatch’s perception of race and her decision to arrest Wingate:
During your interviews with OPA, you indicated that your perception of the race, sex, and age of others influenced how you interacted with and reacted to events regarding this individual and, more generally, events in the workplace. You discussed your view that the individual’s age and sex contributed to his reaction towards you as a female officer, and stated that you would not be investigated were you not white. Without prompting, you described how you viewed the resolution of his charges as an example of racial bias because “guess who” – a black judge and black chief were not, in your view, supporting white officers. Even during your Loudermill hearing, you continued to blame minorities for your perceived mistreatment on account of your race (white). Your perceptions of race and other protected categories appear to be so deeply seated that they likely impacted the authoritarian manner in which you treated this man and your refusal to deviate from that approach towards an individual whose actions did not warrant such treatment.
Despite the termination decision, SPD continues to face scrutiny over “use of force” incidents and the department’s record for avoiding serious discipline of its investigated officers.
O’Toole’s letter and the termination order are below.
UPDATE 9/22/2015 11:15 AM: Seattle Police Officers Guild president Ron Smith has been in meetings every time we’ve called to talk with him but SPOG has finally posted what appears to be a statement on the Whitlatch firing:
We are committed to the welfare of our members, defense of the mutually negotiated CBA, benefits mutually negotiated and the due process rights of all of our members! Our members stand day and night between good and evil… Thank you to those Seattleites who support the Seattle Police Department!!!!
UPDATE 9/22/15 12:15 PM: SPOG has clarified that its statement was “not attributed to any one thing.”
A general statement about our mission not attributed to any one thing https://t.co/0wvxOPDpCa
— SPOG (@SPOG1952) September 22, 2015