Last week, I wrote about newly obtained public records that show that Officer Cynthia Whitlatch believed she was being investigated for her controversial arrest of veteran and retired Metro bus driver William Wingate because she's white—not black.
When the investigators questioned her supervisors, a strange twist occurred. Captain Pierre Davis, her supervisor in the East Precinct at the time, claims no one complained to him that racial bias was involved in Whitlatch's arrest of Wingate—even though a group of community advocates said they met with him two months after the incident to make that exact complaint.
Davis is a thirty-year veteran of the SPD, and currently the captain of the Southwest Precinct. He is black.
Pastor Carl Livingston, one of the community members who brought the case to Davis's attention, told me the officer's claims are untrue. Joey Gray, the Executive Director of the Daybreak Star Native American center, said Davis is lying.
On September 4, 2014, Davis and former SPD assistant chief Nick Metz, who is also African American, met with Livingston, Gray, former state representative Dawn Mason, and community activist Pat Cleary at the East Precinct office on Capitol Hill.
Gray said they talked about conversations that many African Americans have with each other about being cautious around the police. She talked about how white people in North Seattle can throw frisbees around in public places without fear of police considering them to be weapons, she said. Wingate was using golf club as a cane at the time of his arrest.
Almost nine months after that meeting, Davis sat down with an OPA investigator to talk about the incident. He was asked repeatedly, in different ways, whether anyone in the September meeting alleged that racial bias played a role in Wingate's arrest. He repeatedly said no. Here's the full exchange:
Grossman: Did anyone at the meeting allege that Officer Whitlatch had stopped Mr. Wingate because he was an African American male?
Davis: No, I didn’t get that at all.
Davis: I didn’t get that at all.
Grossman: Did they...did they...so you...your perception was that no one at the meeting was making an allegation of biased policing?
Davis: No. And, we had a discussion...Chief Metz and I had a discussion about that. Only because I know once it reaches a certain threshold, that it’s going to get pushed to OPA. Once you start making assertions of bias toward anything, this is exactly where this is going to go, and it’s going to be adjudicated other than this office. A different office. So we did discuss that, and we were just waiting for that trigger to transpire. And it never did. Getting back to the main crux of why the meeting took place, and what they ultimately wanted for Mr. Wingate.
Grossman: Okay, so when you say you were waiting for that trigger to...to whatever, you’re...you’re waiting for someone to make an allegation of bias, basically, is what you’re saying.
Grossman: And, and again, if I’m saying something that isn’t correct...
Grossman: ...please correct me. So you’re saying in that meeting, no one sitting at that table made an allegation that Officer Whitlatch made a stop of Mr. Wingate because he was black.
Davis: Based on his color, no.
Davis: Not at all.
Grossman: And you...you didn’t get the...you didn’t get the impression that that’s what they were driving at?
Davis: No, no. I got the impression that they wanted this to be off of his record.
"Oh, come on!" said Dawn Mason, the former state representative, when I read her this exchange over the phone. "Why were we in that room?! This is amazing... Now don't tell me that wasn't about racial bias. Come on. Everything I said was racial."
Mason said they talked about how a golf club, in the hands of an elderly black man, had been transformed into a dangerous "weapon" in the eyes of Whitlatch. She said it was explicitly alleged that had Wingate been white, he would not have been treated the way he was. "What part of that is not about race? I can't even believe this."
"That's not true. That's not true at all," said Livingston when I read him portions of the exchange. "I agree with what Dawn Mason said."
"We were saying Wingate was targeted and picked up because he was black," said Cleary. "Definitely."
When I read Davis' remarks to Gray, she exclaimed, "That's bullshit!"
She e-mailed later, after reading through the transcript of the interview: "Davis' statements are lies."
It's not clear whether Davis is already in hot water. Gray filed her own complaint with OPA in February, after The Stranger brought Wingate's arrest to light, over the fact that no one had referred the incident to the office for investigation. The agency's complaint status tracker says her complaint resulted in "one or more" of the allegations being sustained by OPA director Pierce Murphy. The findings have been sent to police chief Kathleen O'Toole, who will make a decision on whether to uphold the proposed discipline.
SPD and OPA declined to elaborate on this story.
Former assistant chief Nick Metz, who was also in that meeting, is now the chief of police in Aurora, Colorado. He told the OPA he couldn't remember whether he filled out a form codifying what was alleged during the meeting as an "official Bias complaint."
"What I recall is that they thought the stop itself was petty," he told investigators, "but not, I do not recall any allegations that, at least at that meeting anyway, of anything having to do with the fact that they felt that there was no probable cause for the stop."
Cleary, the community activist, said she "flipped out" during the meeting when Metz suggested turning "the talk" that African Americans have on how to handle police into a book. "I said, 'I'm Irish-American, and no one who's Irish American I ever knew ever had to have 'the talk'."
Metz did not respond to a voicemail seeking comment.
Mason expressed regret that the SPD officers appear to be lying about what was said at the meeting. "We expect racial diversity in all of our public positions because it's supposed to level the playing field," she said. "I was very, very disappointed that these two African American men did not see what the whole country saw, and even what the chief of police saw."
And Anne Levinson, who audits the OPA's investigations, raised additional concerns about Davis' remarks. "It was not clear from his interview why he believed it to be appropriate to seek to 'expunge [Wingate’s] record' if he and the Assistant Chief thought there was probable cause for the arrest," she wrote in an email obtained through a records request. "The statement he made several times that it was appropriate to try to remove the charges from the subject’s record because he was 'one of the good guys' suggested the potential of differential treatment."
Finally, the records show that Whitlatch believed all of these issues to be "settled" after Davis and two other superior officers counseled her last year. She told the OPA:
Well, they played the video for me and then we talked about the situation and I explained some things that they didn’t know about because they felt that the, my voice was raised, and they, so there was, I don’t know, they were concerned about that. But when I explained to them that there was construction right next to us, and the traffic, and that he was having trouble hearing, that was resolved. And then, you know, Captain Davis kinda put it one way. He goes it’s kinda awful but it’s lawful... I mean they were fine with everything that happened.
Here's Davis' full interview with the OPA.