City Attorney Pete Holmes on Friday defended his decision to settle the disciplinary appeal of Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlatch, who was fired in 2015 for biased-based policing over the arrest of William Wingate, a 69-year-old black man who was using a golf club as a cane.
Whitlatch’s settlement reverses her termination to retirement and allows her to collect $105,000 in back pay. At the same time, the contract guarantees that she never works in law enforcement again.
In a press release, Holmes said his team was prepared to defend Whitlatch’s firing but his hands were tied over a provision in a police union contract that requires an officer to know a disciplinary decision within 180 days of a supervisor learning the facts of a case.
Holmes does not get into specifics, but he’s probably referring to this: About two months after Wingate’s arrest happened in July 2014, community activists raised concerns over the incident to then-Deputy Chief Nick Metz and Captain Pierre Davis. Neither reported the complaint to the Office of Professional Accountability, a body that reviews police misconduct allegations. The OPA later found that Metz violated SPD policy by failing to document that complaint.
The Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), the union representing local cops, said that September 2014 meeting with community activists should’ve been the starting date for the 180-day time window. Chief Kathleen O’Toole didn’t sign off on Whitlatch’s termination until September 15, 2015, more than a year after that meeting occurred.
In his letter, Holmes says the possibility of Whitlatch’s reinstatement over the timing issue led his team to negotiate the settlement with SPOG. He said the case highlights the need for Seattle police personnel to promptly report any potential complaints, as well as the need for the city to negotiate a police union contract that holds officers accountable. Seattle police officers have operated with an expired union contract since the end of 2014.
Yesterday, the Community Police Commission requested to review all documents related to Whitlatch’s discipline and appeal, as well as files related to supervisors failing to report complaints of her misconduct.
Footage of Whitlatch's arrest of Wingate, published by former Stranger staffer Ansel Herz, set off an uproar. Whitlatch had asserted that Wingate swung a golf club at her, a claim for which the video gives no evidence.