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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 4, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 45
Wingate civil rights trial reveals victim traumatized; former SPD officer Whitlatch claims devastation
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Wingate civil rights trial reveals victim traumatized; former SPD officer Whitlatch claims devastation

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Cynthia Whitlatch, a former Seattle police officer, broke down on the witness stand in federal court Tuesday, insisting race played no part in her arrest of a 69-year-old Black man, William Wingate, who was carrying a golf club as a cane that she viewed as a dangerous weapon, according to the Seattle Times.

Whitlatch was called to testify in a racial discrimination lawsuit brought by Wingate. She told jurors Wingate swung the golf club toward the open driver's side window of her patrol car as she drove past him on Capitol Hill on July 9, 2014.

Wingate denied he had done so when confronted by the officer, sparking a yelling match between the two captured on patrol-car video that emerged as key evidence in the civil-rights suit seeking at least $750,000. Wingate continually asks for the officer to calm down and to call a supervisor. The reason he asked for a senior officer to come out to the scene is because, as video footage clearly shows, Whitlatch had become extremely agitated and had lost her temper.

Robert Christie, who represents Whitlatch, questioned his client, who sobbed as she told jurors Tuesday that her testimony represented the first time she's had a chance to tell 'my side of the story.'

Whitlatch was fired by Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O'Toole over the incident and says her family has suffered. She claims that her wife divorced her in part over the fallout and that she has been personally humiliated and unable to defend herself.

Whitlatch maintains that her arrest of Wingate had 'nothing to do with his race.' She told the jury that his arrest was motivated solely by her concern that he represented a threat to her and, potentially, the public.

Whitlatch did acknowledge, however, that she didn't immediately alert other officers to any danger when they responded to help her. She explained that she had no initial plans to arrest him and ultimately just wanted to hear Wingate's explanation for what she accused him of doing.

However, Wingate was arrested after he didn't comply with commands to drop the golf club, Whitlatch said.

Whitlatch did acknowledge that she harmed her case through various actions after the incident, including a now-infamous Facebook post in which she referred to 'black peoples (sic) paranoia' among other racially charged statements. Additionally, she also admitted she had acted wrongly when she suggested a black judge had dismissed the criminal case against Wingate and that Seattle Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best had apologized on behalf of the department to him because she is also black.

'I lashed out because of the situation,' she addressed jurors.

Whitlatch explained the circumstances of an email she forwarded to herself, which documented the use of what she called the 'N word' (she was forced to fully use the word in court Monday in discussing the email, but the actual word is allegedly not in the email, according to the Times) in what she considered an offensive video posted on Facebook by a colleague.

Whitlatch testified Tuesday she was 'very, very offended' by the video. But she said she didn't want to get another officer in trouble, so she only kept a record in the email sent to herself.

In her attempt to repair her reputation, Whitlatch tearfully revealed that she had been sexually assaulted by a relative beginning at age 9 and separately by another man at age 13. She described that history as a 'driving force' in her decision to become a police officer and 'protect those who can't protect themselves.'

Whitlatch recalled how she had gone after an active shooter in a bar, unconcerned about the racial makeup of the patrons inside because 'I don't care about those things.'

According to the Times, she also described her personal efforts to care for an elderly woman she found living in squalor, including bathing her and finding a nursing facility, and her purchase of shoes, socks, a backpack, and jacket for a homeless man who later wrote her a letter saying it was the kindest thing done for him during 14 months on the street.

Whitlatch said that by the time she found herself in front of Chief O'Toole before her firing, she was 'in shock' and that she fully expects to win back her job on appeal.

'I love police work and I'm good at it,' she told the jury.

Wingate's supporters aren't buying it.

'Two lives are connected that day and his is forever changed,' Wingate's attorney Susan Mindenbergs said in opening statements of the civil rights trial, October 31, in which she maintained her client had been severely traumatized by the confrontation.

Wingate denied swinging the club on that day, and still now, but he was arrested for investigation of unlawful use of a weapon and obstructing a police officer and held in jail for 30 hours.

City prosecutors pursued only a weapon charge, and Wingate agreed to a continuance of his case, under which the misdemeanor charge would be dropped in two years if he met court conditions partly because he says he didn't really understand what was happening and was in shock.

Prosecutors later moved to dismiss the entire case after a former state representative raised questions about the arrest. A judge accepted the dismissal.

Mindenbergs said Wingate served in the Air Force Reserve and drove a King County Metro bus for 35 years, during which time he developed a working relationship with police officers.

'He's a different man' now, Mindenbergs said, alluding that her client went from someone who trusted police to being afraid of them.

The suit also named the city as a defendant. But US Judge Richard Jones, who is presiding over the case, dismissed the city, ruling that Whitlatch's action didn't stem from city policies or long-standing practices. However, the city is required to pay Christie, because Whitlatch's actions occurred while she was city employee.

It is important to note that when Police Chief O'Toole fired Whitlatch last year, the chief labeled Whitlatch as someone who demonstrated overly aggressive policing practices.

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