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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 29, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 22
Officer Whitlatch fired by SPD Chief O'Toole
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Officer Whitlatch fired by SPD Chief O'Toole

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Officer Cynthia Whitlatch was served September 15 with a termination notice for sustained policy violations involving bias, abuse of police discretion, and escalation of a contact on July 9, 2014.

Whitlatch sparked a media and public backlash against SPD when video taken from the dashcam in her car showed that she had used bias policing to stop and harass William Wingate, 69, for doing nothing besides leaning on a golf club like a cane. She states that she thought he swung the golf club at her car. The video also catches her lying to the officer who shows up after she calls for backup when she believes Wingate has become uncooperative. Even though the man is obviously confused as to why she stopped him in the first place, and continually tells her to "call somebody else' to the scene, she refuses to communicate with him without yelling, at one point has her nightstick out, and yells over and over again for him to "put down the golf club.'

Wingate, a retired bus driver and U.S. Air Force veteran, sued the city and Whitlatch in April. Protesters "walked' on his behalf while carrying their own golf clubs earlier this year because they alleged that he was arrested for "walking while black.' His lawyers praised the firing of Whitlatch in a statement on Tuesday.

Attorneys Susan Mindenbergs and Vonda Sargent said, "The public interest is best served by the even-handed enforcement of law regardless of race.'

The Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) found Whitlatch in violation of several department policies and Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole agreed, firing the officer on Tuesday.

O'Toole justifies the termination of Whitlatch, 48, because she says the officer broke the department's rules in the arrest.

O'Toole says that Whitlatch perceived mistreatment on account of her race when she complained that a black judge and black deputy chief dropped Wingate's charges because she is white, and Wingate is black.

"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,' O'Toole says in the termination document.

Whitlatch, who had been disciplined twice before for "unprofessional conduct,' should have handled the "non-threatening situation' differently, O'Toole concluded.

"Your inability to understand, even in hindsight, that your behavior was unnecessarily aggressive, an abuse of discretion, and negatively impacted the community's confidence in this police service, offers me no pathway to confidence that your behavior will improve or change,' O'Toole wrote. "Without this ability to learn from your mistakes, understand how you can improve and do better, and recognize your own errors, you are unable to effectively function as an officer.'

Before the decision to fire Whitlatch was made, the officer was reassigned to desk duty and given counseling, and the department deemed the case resolved. Later in the year, though, O'Toole was made aware of racial comments that Whitlatch made on her Facebook page in the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. She said she was tired of "black people's paranoia" and wrote of "chronic black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country."

In response, the Seattle Office of Professional Accountability launched a probe against Whitlatch. However, Whitlatch has denied any racial bias or misconduct in the arrest. She told investigators during the review that she wouldn't have altered any of her actions that day.

The Seattle Police Officers' Guild is expected to appeal her dismissal. The organization's president, Ron Smith, has said that police didn't complete their investigation within the required 180-day period after learning of community members' outrage in September 2014.

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