About 150 people slogged through the rain Saturday afternoon during a rally to support a retired King County Metro driver who was arrested on Capitol Hill last summer while out for his daily walk.
In honor of William Wingate and in protest of his arrest, “Walking While Black” marchers carried a variety of golf clubs. In July, Wingate, was on a 10-mile walk, using a golf club as a cane, when Seattle Police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch claimed he swung it in a threatening manner.
Wingate, 70, marched with the crowd on Capitol Hill. Dressed in a navy trench coat and a military veteran’s ballcap, he quietly said hello and smiled at well-wishers but declined to talk to the media.
Speaking to the crowd, Wingate said “I didn’t do nothing” on July 9.
“I’m still confused because here I am, standing on the corner minding my own business and a police officer comes over accuses me of swinging at the car,” Wingate said. “… This is just bad, I hope something comes of this.”
Wingate said he once worked as a police officer in the Air Force.
“I don’t have no beef with the police department.”
During an interview Jan. 29, Wingate said he didn’t immediately obey Whitlatch’s commands to drop the club because he was frightened.
“I was scared,” Wingate said during a news conference in his attorney’s office. “I didn’t know what she was going to do.”
Wingate said he believed he was targeted by Whitlatch because he is black and described the officer as “out of control” during the encounter. Whitlatch is white.
Wingate’s attorney, Susan Mindenbergs, filed a claim — a precursor to a lawsuit — against the city in November. The claim, which seeks at least $750,000 in damages, says Wingate’s civil rights were violated and his only crime was “walking in Seattle while black.”
Court documents show Wingate was charged in Seattle Municipal Court with unlawful use of a weapon, a misdemeanor. He accepted an agreement in which the case would be dismissed after two years if he complied with all conditions ordered by the judge.
In late August, a Dawn Mason, a former state representative, asked the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to look into the case.
City Attorney Pete Holmes enlisted the aid of Craig Sims, the chief criminal deputy, who obtained the case file and video, said Holmes’ spokeswoman Kimberly Mills. Sims initiated discussions with Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best, who, after her own review, agreed with prosecutors that the unlawful-weapon charge should be dismissed, Mills said.
At the request of prosecutors, a judge dismissed the charge Sept. 19.
Whitlatch is on home leave, with pay, while an internal investigation is conducted.
During Saturday’s protest, Mason spoke to the crowd about her role in Wingate’s case and blamed the legal system for failing him.
“Justice did not fall in to place behind William Wingate,” Mason said. “This man will never again walk with his golf club.”