Jury finds SPD cop violated man’s civil rights in Capitol Hill ‘walking while black’ case

A federal jury has found former East Precinct police officer Cynthia Whitlatch guilty of violating the civil rights of William Wingate after arresting the pedestrian at the corner of 12th and Pike in 2014 and sparking a massive a backlash against the Seattle Police Department.

Whitlatch was eventually fired for racial bias. The jury decided Tuesday that Wingate, now 72, should be awarded $325,000 for the actions of the veteran officer who claimed she felt threatened by Wingate’s actions as he walked through the neighborhood that July day on Capitol Hill.

The City of Seattle had been dropped from the suit after a ruling that Whitlatch’s actions “didn’t stem from city policies or longstanding practices.”

Wingate’s lawyers successfully argued their client was stopped by Whitlatch because he is black:screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-10-59-38-am

Whitlatch now works as a Starbucks barista and “will not be driven into financial ruin by the decision,” the Stranger’s Ansel Herz reports:

Under the Seattle Municipal Code, the city indemnifies its employees against lawsuits of this kind except in circumstances in which behavior is “dishonest, fraudulent, criminal or malicious.” Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who fired Whitlatch last year, determined that the lawsuit’s claims did not fall under that rubric.

Wingate was was arrested and exonerated after the summer 2014 incident at 12th and Pike in which the City of Seattle eventually apologized for the actions of Whitlatch who took the then 69-year-old black man into custody for allegedly swinging a golf club he used as a cane in a manner the veteran officer said she found threatening. Outcry followed and many pointed at the incident as further evidence of the need for reform at Seattle Police. In-car video from the arrest also played a large part in bringing the incident to light. “I can’t understand why. I (have) never done anything to this woman,” Wingate told the crowd at a 2015 protest. “I hope something comes of this.”

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3 thoughts on “Jury finds SPD cop violated man’s civil rights in Capitol Hill ‘walking while black’ case

  1. The defense will take at least 1/2 of that settlement. 1/3rd for their contingency then “costs.” I know this from personal experience. I hope with the appeal Mr. Wingate actually lives to see some of that money.

    • Why do you put scare quotes around costs? To prevent a conflict of interest it is a court rule in Washington that clients bear costs even when they lose. The reasoning behind this is pretty arcane and derives from English common law doctrines intended to prevent frivolous lawsuits, but essentially it mandates the plaintiff hold a stake in the outcome of the case. While we would all love if some lawyer took on this case pro bono, if nobody is willing to do the work for free then a contingency fee is reasonable. It’s not as if Mr. Wingate could have prevailed without an attorney working hundreds of hours on his case.

      Washington Court Rules RPC 1.8 CONFLICT OF INTEREST: CURRENT CLIENTS: SPECIFIC RULES
      (1) a lawyer may advance or guarantee the expenses of litigation, including court costs, expenses of
      investigation, expenses of medical examination, and costs of obtaining and presenting evidence,
      provided the client remains ultimately liable for such expenses;