Chief Kathleen O'Toole announced her decision in a post on the SPD's website today. Officer Cynthia Whitlatch was an eighteen-year veteran of the department and a field training officer. Last year, she arrested then-69-year-old William Wingate, an African-American military veteran, as he walked down the street carrying a golf club that he used as cane. In January, The Stranger obtained video of the incident and first reported on racist remarks Whitlatch made on Facebook, sparking an outcry.
The investigation into Whitlatch has raised questions about the conduct of other officers within the department, including her supervising captain and fellow officers who assisted her in the arrest of Wingate. The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) has vowed to challenge her firing.
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...
I was disappointed by your failure during your Loudermill hearing to take any responsibility, or show any understanding that your conduct at issue here was inappropriate. In particular, when I asked you what if anything you would do differently in retrospect, you stated that you would do nothing differently.
UPDATE 3:33 pm: In a statement issued through his attorneys, William Wingate says he supports O'Toole's decision. "It is clear that this officer was unable to engage in law enforcement in an unbiased manner," they said.
Wingate sued the department for damages in April, alleging racial discrimination. "Regardless of how this lawsuit is resolved, Mr. Wingate and his legal team support Chief O’Toole’s decision to terminate Officer Whitlatch’s employment."
And City Council President Tim Burgess issued a statement of his own, saying, "The Chief of Police has sent a strong and appropriate signal. Officer behavior that compromises public trust is not acceptable in Seattle."
UPDATE 4 p.m.: Ron Smith, the head of SPOG, says O'Toole "caved under the enormous political pressure and made this decision. The department has clearly violated the collective bargaining agreement section 3.6B, and as such an appeal will be filed if requested by Officer Whitlach.” Smith is referring to provisions in the SPOG contract that limit the amount of time the department can spend on an internal investigation.
District 3 City Council Candidate Pamela Banks sent me a message saying, "I am ecstatic to hear that Chief O'Toole upheld the OPA recommendation to fire her today. It's unfortunate that it took over a year [since the incident]."
As for Whitlatch's then-supervising captain and current Southwest Precinct Captain Pierre Davis, Banks said it's "more than disappointing to see the 'blue code' of silence continue but the out right lying is ridiculous!" I wrote more about what some call the "blue wall of silence" and the Whitlatch case here.