By Albert Lin
A white Seattle police officer is still on the job despite improperly harassing an elderly Black man last July and making racist comments on Facebook.
Officer Cynthia Whitlatch was finally placed on administrative duty after the racist Facebook comments were uncovered by The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative weekly newspaper.
A day earlier, after the Seattle Police Department released video of the arrest of then 69-year-old William Wingate for using a golf club as a cane and apologized to him for the incident, Chief Kathleen O’Toole ordered a review of Whitlatch’s actions in this incident and one other.
In a statement posted to the SPD’s website, O’Toole wrote in part:
“Until yesterday I was unaware of Officer Whitlatch’s Facebook posts. I was shocked and disappointed to read her comments. We are working to reform the Seattle Police Department, and behavior of this nature seriously undermines our efforts.
“I was hired because of my track record for reform and my commitment to bias-free policing. I knew this would be a difficult job, but days like this make me even more determined.”
The second incident O’Toole referred to is believed to stem from a complaint filed with the city’s Office of Professional Accountabilityabout those very Facebook comments. After having an online exchange with Whitlatch, Brian Davis, who is Black, told The Stranger that he was so concerned that he decided to file the complaint.
Davis provided The Stranger with screengrabs of Whitlatch’s racist comments, which were made in response to Davis’ comment on another user’s post. Davis was subsequently unfriended by that user, who happens to be another Seattle police officer.
In the comments, Whitlatch attacks Davis and what she calls “the chronic Black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country.” She continues: “I am tired of Black people’s paranoia that white people are out to get them.”
Wingate’s arrest was brought to the attention of police brass by former State Representative Dawn Mason. It had been kept under wraps by the Seattle Police Department as part of the institutionalized nondisclosure of race-related incidents at the heart of current tensions across the United States. For example, there is no official database kept on officer-involved shootings in the U.S. Instead, the Justice Department allows local law-enforcement agencies to self-report these shootings as “justifiable homicides.”
Last July 9, Whitlatch claimed that Wingate swung the golf club aggressively at her as she drove past him. She circled the block, pulled up alongside Wingate and repeatedly asked him to drop the club. Wingate at times appeared to have a hard time hearing her, but he repeatedly denied wrongdoing and refused to drop the club. After another officer arrived on the scene, Wingate was arrested for obstruction and harassment. He was later charged with unlawful use of a weapon, but accepted a plea agreement that included no further jail time.
On her blog last August, Mason wrote, “We thank God she did not shoot him in response to her ‘reasonable fear’ he would assault her and others with his golf club, that she says he was using as a weapon.”
Wingate’s attorney told The Washington Post that Wingate is an Air Force veteran who drove a city bus for 35 years. “His relationships with the police have always been cooperative,” Susan Mindenbergs said. “That’s been his experience, so this was dramatically different.”
He has filed an administrative claim against the city seeking damages of $750,000, partly to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. “I’m a Black man walking down the street doing nothing, and I got stopped and went to jail by a white police officer,” he told KIRO-TV. “I was scared. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I knew one thingI was being framed.”
Police spokesperson Sergeant Sean Whitcomb acknowledged, “He should feel confident walking with a golf club anywhere near the East Precinct. He should absolutely not be concerned.”
Watch the dash-cam video of Wingate’s arrest below: