Public records obtained regarding the investigation of Cynthia Whitlatch—the Seattle police officer who came under fire for her arrest last year of then-69-year-old William Wingate, who is black, for allegedly swinging a golf club at her patrol car—reveal that the officer, who is white, believes she is a victim of reverse racism.
The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) carried out the investigation into the July 2014 incident, as well as racially fueled Facebook posts made by Whitlatch. The records show that Whitlatch accused judge Fred Bonner, who is black, and deputy chief Carmen Best, who is also black, of collusion, and blamed her race for not being supported for her actions.
Whitlatch was fired but appealed her termination and pleaded her case before the chief last Friday. There is no deadline by which O'Toole must make her final decision. (Ron Smith, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild, declined to comment.)
Initially, Wingate had been charged with obstruction, spent the night in jail, and pleaded guilty. But after a meeting between police commanders and former state representative Dawn Mason, who got involved with the case, the police department asked the city attorney's office to dismiss the charges.
Whitlatch told the OPA she believed the charges were dismissed because the judge and deputy chief involved were both black.
Judge Bonner, calls him in and eliminates that, overrides the other judge. Now, and so and then guess who goes out and takes the golf club to him and hands it over to him again. I mean that’s really insulting. I mean this guy did this to me, swung a golf club at my car and then he’s arrested for Obstruction, and then our Assistant Chief goes over and takes the golf club back to him and makes a media production of it, and then they don’t charge him? And then the judge changes his sentence from his Dispositional Continuance from 24 months to, to nothing now, whatever it was? What race were these? The judge was black and the Chief is black, so I mean to me...how does that look? It, it doesn’t support the officer, that’s for sure. I, I mean how can you have a Chief take the weapon back to a guy who swung it at an officer? I really have a hard time accepting that.
In the OPA's office in downtown Seattle, investigator Krista Bair asked Whitlatch about her Facebook posts, in which she blamed "chronic black racism" for the "riots" in Ferguson and said she was "tired of black people saying poor me poor me." Whitlatch responded simply: "Well, I'm white, and I wouldn't be here [under investigation] if I was black."
Records show that OPA director Pierce Murphy and the department seized on these comments as further justification for her termination. Murphy sustained allegations that Whitlatch carried out an unlawful detention, did not properly use discretion, did not de-escalate, did not properly use force, and engaged in biased policing.
The OPA found that as Whitlatch approached Wingate, she was holding her baton, "further escalating the interaction and signaling it as dangerous."
"It is precisely this sort of police interaction," Murphy said, "over a minor event that unnecessarily escalated into 'contempt of cop' arrests and the use of force that led (in part) to calls for a Federal Investigation of the Seattle Police Department and resulted in the current Settlement Agreement between the City and the Department of Justice."
Chief Kathleen O'Toole A SPD disciplinary committee made up of department lawyers, command staff, Deputy Chief Carmen Best, the OPA director, and the department's HR director echoed the OPA report. "While you did not use slurs or otherwise explicitly raise racial issues during the encounter," they said in a termination letter, "your actions and statements (related to this incident and in the recent past) indicate that you interpret events in your workplace to be situations where white police officers, and you specifically, are not being treated fairly or respectfully by members of the public, particularly African Americans, and this contributed directly to your police work vis-à-vis this individual.
"Your perceptions of race and other protected categories appear to be so deeply seated that they impacted the aggressive manner in which you treated this man, whose actions did not warrant such treatment," the committee continued.
SPD had been well aware of complaints against Whitlatch since before the Wingate incident. The records show that citizens filed eight OPA complaints against Whitlatch since 2011 regarding her professionalism. "The general nature of the complaints is that she was alleged to have been rude when acting in her official capacity as a police officer," Bair noted.
The committee said that Whitlatch had been reprimanded in writing in 1998 for an incident at Petco, verbally reprimanded in 2002 for rude and unprofessional conduct during a traffic stop, counseled in February 2014 regarding expectations of courtesy, and that the day before her arrest of Wingate, she'd received bias-free policing training.
Murphy noted that Whitlatch admitted she "did not see Mr. Wingate swing his golf club at the police car and hit the stop sign; instead, she admits that she only saw movement out of the corner of her eye and heard a noise, leading her to assume he swung at her car and hit the stop sign... The Named Employee observed Mr. Wingate look at her with a furrowed brow and assumed that he was purposefully directing an 'angry' look at her."
Whitlatch seemed fixated on Wingate's alleged furrowed brow, which she said she could see through her rearview mirror as she drove away from Pike and 11th. She said she knew he was glaring at her because he was angry.
Her patrol car's dashcam video shows that when Whitlatch confronts Wingate at an intersection one block away, Wingate appears to have no idea who she was or why she is asking him to drop his golf club, which he was using as a cane.
Whitlatch also believes that Wingate wouldn't follow her instructions because she was a woman. "I think he didn't want a woman telling him what to do, to be honest with you," she said.
The officer said that whenever she detains black people for what she believes are crimes, she expects them to accuse her of racism.
Bair: Have you been told when you’ve stopped somebody that the only reason why you’re stopping them is because they’re black?
Whitlatch: Dozens, countless times.
Bair: Countless times.
Bair: And can you tell me, you don’t have to be specific as far as incidents, but can you tell me what are your reasons for stopping these individuals?
Whitlatch: Well, traffic, I stop people for DUI, just on the street for reasonable suspicion stops, suspicious behavior, drinking in public at Cal Anderson, and it’s you only do this 'cause I’m black.
Bair: Okay. So do you believe when you stop people or contact people, and these people are people of color or minorities and the throw back at you, the only reason why is because I’m X? Are you saying that for those stops that those were lawful stops...
Bair: ...for, for police duties? Is that correct?
Whitlatch: Oh, absolutely.
Whitlatch: Of course they’re lawful stops. And, you know, frankly, I expect it. If I stop somebody and they’re black, I am surprised if they don’t make that comment.
Bair asked Whitlatch how she can write things on Facebook like, "I am tired of black peoples [sic] paranoia that white people are out to get them," but remain sympathetic to the concerns and needs of minority groups. Whitlatch responded:
Well, first of all, there’s a lot of people that come to this country that have absolutely nothing that work their asses off to succeed, and they save, they live under terrible conditions, they’ll, you know, lots of people in one room, but they don’t say, you know, hey, you’re only doing this because I’m Hispanic, or you’re stopping me because I’m gay, or because I’m Asian. They come to this country, they work really hard, they try to follow the rules, they try to learn the language, they, they have a lot of ethics and integrity and they have accountability for their actions and they wanna get ahead by working hard and doing the right thing. It’s the people that don’t wanna do anything and try to get away with things or get off of things or scare people by saying hey, you know, you’re only doing this 'cause I’m black. And there’s a lot of people that are discriminated against, myself included, for being gay and for being a woman.
For at least thirteen years, Whitlatch acted as a field training officer, showing new police recruits the ropes. She did not respond to e-mailed requests for comment.
"This goes deeper than any one officer," the Seattle-King County NAACP said in a statement after Wingate's arrest was first reported by The Stranger in January. "At every step along the way, our justice system failed Mr. Wingate. That is what institutional racism looks like." In April, Wingate filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against the department.
The records from the OPA investigation also raise questions about the conduct of Whitlatch's supervisors, including Captain Pierre Davis and former Assistant Chief Nick Metz. More to come.
This story has been updated.