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January 29, 2015 at 11:17 AM

Officer involved in golf-club arrest removed from street duty


William Wingate (Christine Clarridge / The Seattle Times)

Update at 4:29 p.m.: Mayor Ed Murray today issued the following statement on the conduct by the Seattle police officer who arrested the man with the golf club and purportedly made racially-charged comments on Facebook:

” I am very disappointed by these incident(s). They are both concerning to me.

“While I support the Chief’s decision yesterday to call for a more comprehensive review of the overall conduct and performance of the officer involved – considering there were two incidents with this officer in the same summer – there appear to be lapses in our protocols.

“I’ve directed the Chief to look not just at the officer’s conduct, but all the circumstances and decisions related to these incidences. We must do more to reform our system to restore the public’s trust in our police department so that everyone feels safe in our communities.

“After meeting with the Chief this morning, we agreed she will conduct a comprehensive management investigation and transfer the officer to non-patrol duties for the time being.”

Original post: Saying she was “shocked and disappointed,” Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole announced Thursday that she is removing from street duty an officer who made racially charged comments on Facebook on the heels of an incident involving the arrest of a man for carrying a golf club.

Officer Cynthia Whitlatch will be placed on administrative desk duty pending reviews of her conduct, O’Toole said.

According to The Stranger, the Facebook post attributed to Whitlatch was critical of “black peoples (sic) paranoia” in assuming whites are “out to get them” and cites the Ferguson, Mo., riots.

O’Toole said she only learned Wednesday of the post, and became concerned that it closely followed the golf-club incident.

“This is serious stuff and we’re going to address it head on,” O’Toole said.

She said the department will continue to face challenges at it works to meet federally mandated reforms, but that the “vast majority” of officers understand the need for change.

Here is O’Toole’s statement:

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.

Earlier, William Wingate, the Seattle man who was arrested and jailed in July for carrying a golf club on a Capitol Hill street, said he didn’t immediately obey Whitlatch’s commands because he was frightened.

“I was scared,” Wingate said during a news conference Thursday morning in the Seattle office of his attorney. “I didn’t know what she was going to do.”

Wingate, 70, said he believed he was targeted by Whitlatch, because he is black. Whitlatch is white.

Wingate said Whitlatch was “out of control” during the July 9 encounter.

Wingate’s attorney, Susan B. Mindenbergs, filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the city in November. The claim is seeking no less than $750,000 in damages.

Wingate was on his daily walk, using the golf club as a cane, when Whitlatch claimed he swung it in a threatening manner while she was driving her patrol car, according to court documents and a video recording of the encounter. The video and police report indicate she circled the block, pulled up alongside Wingate and repeatedly ordered him to drop the golf club.

On the video, Wingate at times appears to be unable to hear Whitlatch clearly. He denies any wrongdoing, refuses to drop the club and tells the officer to call somebody — presumably a supervisor or another officer.

Wingate was arrested and booked into King County Jail for obstruction and harassment.

Wingate accepted an agreement in which the case would be dismissed after two years if he complied with all conditions ordered by the judge.

Seattle police apologized this week for the arrest, and on Wednesday Chief O’Toole called for a review of Whitlatch’s conduct, as well as a review of the supervision and counseling she had received as a result of the incident. The City Attorney’s Office also dismissed the charge.

Today I heard many concerns from community members about the conduct of an SPD officer assigned to the East Precinct,” O’Toole said in a statement posted Wednesday on the department’s website. “These concerns are related to two incidents that occurred during the summer of 2014, one of which was detailed previously by our department.”

To some, the encounter between Wingate and the Whitlatch mirrors issues raised by the Department of Justice when it found in 2011 that the Police Department had engaged in a pattern or practice of constitutional violations regarding use of force. It also found the department often used excessive force against people who are already under control, as well as against people who talk back to officers.

The Justice Department concluded that Seattle officers “escalate situations and use unnecessary or excessive force when arresting individuals for minor offenses.”

The finding led to a landmark settlement in which the department agreed to make broad reforms

Wingate, a former King County Metro bus driver, said he has had positive encounters with police in the past. He described himself as “pro-police” in the past, although his view has changed since the encounter.

During the news conference he held up a cane he said he obtained after the golf club was taken away.

“I’m just a regular, blue-collar guy,” he said. “I’m a working man, and I’m still working.”

Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Kathleen O'Toole, questionable arrest, Seattle Police Department


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