Officer Cynthia Whitlatch arrests then-69-year-old William Wingate on 12th Avenue and Pike, cutting short Wingate's daily walk from north Seattle to The Facts newspaper in the Central District. Wingate was using a golf club as a cane as he walked, but Whitlatch claims he swung the golf club at her and that dashcam video will prove it. The dashcam video shows no such thing.
Whitlatch, with the assistance of Officers Christopher Coles and Ben Archer, books Wingate into jail. Sergeant Joe Lam screens the arrest. Wingate spends the night in jail and later calls it the "most miserable night" he's experienced.
Prosecutors at the City Attorney's office file a misdemeanor charge of unlawful use of a weapon against Wingate, based on the SPD's report of the incident. On the advice of a public defender, Wingate agrees to an order of continuance as a way of settling the charge. Essentially, he was admitting guilt and pledging not to commit any crimes for the next two years.
Whitlatch sends a message to the city attorney's office inquiring about the outcome of the case, unsuccessfully pressing prosecutors to file an obstruction charge against Wingate.
Brian Davis, a board member of the Gay City Health Project, encounters Whitlatch on Facebook. She accuses him of being a "black racist" in response to comments he made on a post by Officer David Oreiro about protests in Ferguson. Davis files a complaint with the Office of Professional Accontability (OPA), the civilian-run arm of SPD that investigates misconduct. The OPA advises that Whitlatch undergo supervisory counseling.
Troubled and angered, former State Representative Dawn Mason posts to her personal blog about the arrest of Wingate, explicitly alleging that Whitlatch has a "race bias." Mason says she heard about the case from a neighbor.
Mason, along with Joey Gray, Pat Cleary, and Carl Livingston, meet with Captain Pierre Davis and Assistant Chief Nick Metz at the East Precinct to transmit their concerns. Davis later claims that no one in the meeting complained about racial bias on the part of Whitlatch. The two officers fail to report the allegations to the OPA.
Around this time, Whitlatch is "counseled" by Davis, Lieutenant Bryan Grenon, and Sergeant Joe Williams about the Facebook posts and the Wingate arrest. According to Whitlatch, Davis tells her, "It’s kinda awful, but it’s lawful."
The City Attorney moves to dismiss the charges against Wingate, and Judge Fred Bonner dismisses them.
Metz writes an e-mail to Craig Sims at the City Attorney's Office, thanking him for getting the charges dropped, while noting: "It should be made clear that we do not believe that the arresting officer violated policy during the detention and/or arrest of Mr. Wingate." Chief Kathleen O'Toole and Deputy Chief Carmen Best are copied on the e-mail thread. Best thanks Sims for his work on the case.
Sometime in September, Deputy Chief Carmen Best meets with Wingate and Mason. She apologizes for the arrest and returns the golf club to him.
Wingate files a claim with the city seeking damages, citing the emotional distress caused from being arrested for "walking in Seattle while black."
A tip brings the incident to The Stranger's attention. I file a public records request for the dashcam video from Whitlatch's patrol car on the day she arrested Wingate.
At 9:30 a.m., The Stranger breaks the story of the arrest, with the full video of Wingate's arrest and trip to the jail.
The department makes no apologies for how it handled the incident. "If this person had been white," said SPD spokesperson Sean Whitcomb, "I would imagine it would have been the same outcome. We don’t believe this was a biased policing incident."
On its website, the department says Whitlatch "received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be an appropriate resolution."
Brian Davis tells The Stranger about racist comments that Whitlatch made on Facebook and shares screenshots of them. The Stranger publishes them at 2:48 p.m.
The department switches tack at 5:39 p.m. Chief Kathleen O'Toole directs Captain Davis to prepare a comprehensive report about Whitlatch, but doesn't suspend the officer.
The OPA launches an investigation.
O'Toole says she was unaware of Whitlatch's Facebook posts. In the afternoon, she announces the transfer of Whitlatch to desk duty.
Metro bus driver Kathleen Dunne tells The Stranger that she no longer drives routes on Capitol Hill because Whitlatch intimidated her in 2011. She says she tried to warn the department by filing a complaint. The OPA recommended a supervisor counsel Whitlatch about the incident.
Gerald Hankerson, the head of the Seattle-King County NAACP, calls for Whitlatch's immediate firing.
The Stranger learns that Whitlatch has been quietly placed on residential leave with pay. She has her badge and gun taken from her.
Wingate and supporters march through Capitol Hill carrying golf clubs. Chad Goller-Sojourner, who organized the event, says, "My fear is that's going to happen to a 25-year-old black man and we'll be burying people. I'm tired of it. But we are here. We are watching. We see you."
Disciplinary records obtained by The Stranger show years of problems involving Whitlatch, dating back to her first year on the force. They include a 1997 incident in which Whitlatch cited her status as a police officer and yelled profanely at a Petco clerk over $1.04 the store allegedly owed her. She was to be suspended for nine hours without pay, but an assistant chief downgraded the discipline to a written reprimand.
Wingate files a lawsuit against the SPD in King County Superior Court seeking civil rights damages. The case is expected to go to trial next summer.
The Office of Professional Accountability concludes its investigation. The OPA finds Whitlatch violated policies on professionalism, stops and detentions, use of force, and bias-free policing. The office had 180 days to complete its investigation under the city's contract with the Seattle Police Officers Guild. That deadline was July 27, unless you believe SPOG, which claims the clock started ticking on September 4, 2014.
Whitlatch appeals to the chief to keep her job in a Loudermill hearing.
O'Toole announces Whitlatch's firing. SPOG suggests it will appeal the decision.
Bottom line: Community members had been complaining about Whitlatch for years, and a lot of very persistent community work over the past year went into getting Whitlatch fired.