Seattle police said they’ve apologized and returned a golf club to a 70-year-old man who was arrested last year after he refused an officer’s command to put down his club, which the officer claimed he was wielding as a weapon.
Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole has ordered a review of an officer’s conduct in the arrest last summer of a 70-year-old man for carrying a golf club on a Capitol Hill street, as well as a racially charged exchange on social media.
Seattle police Wednesday announced they had apologized to the man, who was arrested in July after he refused Officer Cynthia Whitlatch’s commands to put down a golf club, which the officer claimed he was wielding as a weapon. Police also said a conviction for unlawful use of a weapon as a result of the incident had been dismissed.
The man, William Wingate, was on his daily 10-mile walk,using the golf club as a cane, when Whitlatch claimed he swung it in a threatening manner while she was driving her patrol car, according to court documents and a video recording of the interaction between Wingate and the officer.
The video, which was taken by a police patrol-car camera, was posted on the Seattle Police Department website along with news of the apology.
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On Wednesday evening, O’Toole announced that she had ordered a review of Whitlatch’s conduct, as well as a review of the supervision and counseling she had received as a result of the incident.
“Today I heard many concerns from community members about the conduct of an SPD officer assigned to the East Precinct,” O’Toole said in a statement posted on the department’s website. “These concerns are related to two incidents that occurred during the summer of 2014, one of which was detailed previously by our department.”
She said she’s directed East Precinct commander Capt. Pierre Davis to prepare a comprehensive report, including his assessment of Whitlatch’s performance and any supervisory measures that were taken to address her actions in these incidents.
O’Toole’s statement did not detail the second incident.
But Pierce Murphy, the director of SPD’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), said his office had been asked to look into Whitlatch’s conduct last year after a citizen reported that a person with the same name and an apparent Police Department affiliation was making racially charged statements on Facebook.
According to The Stranger, the post attributed to Whitlatch is critical of “black peoples (sic) paranoia” in assuming whites are “out to get them.” The post also cites the Ferguson, Mo., riots.
Murphy said that because the statements were not made while the officer was on duty and because people are entitled to their opinions, the Facebook matter was referred to Whitlatch’s supervisor with a recommendation that she be urged to use decorum and judgment when in a public setting.
Whitlatch is white and Wingate is a black man.
Murphy said OPA had not previously been informed of the arrest of Wingate, but that at least eight people on Wednesday requested that his office examine the encounter.
The arrest came to the attention of police command staff after Dawn Mason, a former state representative, asked the Seattle City Attorney’s Office to look into it last year.
According to the police report, court documents and Mason’s account, Wingate’s arrest occurred on July 9, when Whitlatch claimed Wingate had aggressively swung his golf club at her, striking a stop sign, while she was driving past him near 11th Avenue and East Pike Street.
The video and police report indicate she circled the block, pulled up alongside Wingate and repeatedly ordered him to drop the golf club. She can be heard telling him that the club can be used as a weapon.
Wingate, who at times appears to be unable to hear Whitlatch clearly, denies any wrongdoing, refuses to drop the club and tells the officer to call somebody — presumably a supervisor or another officer.
Another officer comes into view and Wingate is arrested. He is later booked into King County Jail for obstruction and harassment.
Court documents show Wingate was later charged in Seattle Municipal Court with unlawful use of a weapon, a misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty to the charge under an agreement in which the case would be dismissed after two years if he complied with all conditions ordered by the judge.
Neither Wingate nor Mason could be reached for comment on Wednesday, but Mason wrote in her blog that the arrest was unjust.
She described Wingate as a former King County Metro Transit bus driver with no previous criminal history who spent 30 years in the military and had previously enjoyed a good relationship with police.
“We thank God,” Mason wrote, “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.”
Mason spoke with City Attorney Pete Holmes about the case and Holmes asked Criminal Division Chief Craig Sims to look into it, according to Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for the City Attorney’s Office.
“After Craig discussed the issue with Deputy (Police) Chief Carmen Best, our office determined that justice would be served by agreeing to dismiss the case before the agreed two-year time period, as Mr. Wingate had no previous criminal history,” Mills said in an email on Wednesday.
On the city’s recommendation, the case was dismissed by a judge on Sept. 19.
Best personally met with Wingate, returned his golf club and offered an apology for his arrest.
Before O’Toole announced she would be seeking a review of the officer’s conduct, police had said they believed the counseling Whitlatch received from her supervisor was “an appropriate resolution.”