A 70-year-old African-American man filed a lawsuit against the city and Seattle police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch last week, seeking damages for his arrest last summer after the officer accused him of wielding a golf club he used as a cane.
A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of William Wingate, a 70-year-old man who was arrested in July by a Seattle police officer who accused him of wielding a golf club he used as a cane as a weapon.
After spending just over 24 hours in the King County Jail, Wingate — who had never been arrested before — was released and all charges were ultimately dropped. The Seattle Police Department also apologized to him in January and returned his golf club.
The suit was filed last week in King County Superior Court after a claim against the city seeking at least $750,000 in damages went unanswered for more than 60 days, according to court documents. A claim for damages is a required precursor to a lawsuit.
Named in the suit are the city of Seattle and Cynthia Whitlatch, the officer who arrested Wingate.
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Wingate was targeted because he is black, according to the suit, which notes that Whitlatch, who is white, used her personal Facebook page last summer to make racially derogatory comments about African Americans, specifically men, around the time of Wingate’s July 9 arrest.
Wingate is seeking damages for race discrimination, false imprisonment, intentional infliction of emotional distress and violation of his civil rights, according to the lawsuit.
Since his arrest, Wingate has been treated for depression and post-traumatic stress and is fearful of police officers he doesn’t know, the lawsuit says.
The suit notes Wingate served in the military and the Air Force Reserve before retiring in 1997, and drove a King County Metro bus for 35 years, during which time he “developed a collegial relationship” with Seattle police officers.
Wingate was arrested as he was walking to The Facts Newspaper office in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood to pick up copies to deliver to fellow church members in an assisted-living facility, according to the lawsuit filed by attorneys Susan Mindenbergs and Vonda Sargent.
A call to Mindenbergs on Monday was not immediately returned. However, her paralegal later called to say a news conference is scheduled for 4 p.m. May 4 at Mindenbergs’ Pioneer Square law office and the attorney won’t comment on the lawsuit before then.
Kimberly Mills, a spokeswoman for Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes, declined to comment on the lawsuit Monday. The city typically does not comment on pending litigation.
Wingate lives in the Northgate area and had already walked several miles when Whitlatch stopped him at the corner of 12th Avenue and East Pike Street on Capitol Hill, demanding that he drop his golf club, the suit says.
Whitlatch had been driving her patrol car east on Pike when she saw Wingate, who she later accused of swinging the golf club at her in a threatening manner, according to the suit and news accounts. She circled the block, activating her in-car camera, but the video did not substantiate her claim that Wingate swung the club as a weapon.
The video and a police report obtained by The Seattle Times indicated Whitlatch pulled up alongside Wingate and repeatedly ordered him to drop the golf club. On the video, Wingate denies any wrongdoing, refuses to drop the club and tells the officer to call somebody — presumably a supervisor or another officer.
The lawsuit states Wingate “responded that she should call for backup because he had done nothing wrong.”
He gave the golf club and a plastic bag he was carrying to a male officer who arrived and patted Wingate down for weapons but found none, the suit says. Two male officers then “marched the handcuffed Mr. Wingate on foot to the East Precinct,” a block away on 12th Avenue and East Pine Street, then refused Wingate’s repeated requests for water, says the lawsuit.
Wingate was not given any water for approximately eight hours after his arrest, according to the suit.
Jail records show Wingate was booked for obstruction and harassment and spent about 25½ hours in custody before he was conditionally released.
According to the suit, Whitlatch, 47, contacted the Seattle City Attorney’s Office and pushed for Wingate to be charged with obstructing a police officer, claiming he was “one of the most obstinate, uncooperative and obstructive suspects” she had dealt with during her more than 17 years working patrol.
An assistant city attorney declined to charge Wingate with obstruction, though he was charged with unlawful use of a weapon to intimidate. He pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge under an agreement in which the case would be dismissed after two years if he complied with all conditions ordered by the judge.
After questions were raised about the arrest, the Seattle City Attorney’s Office dismissed the charge and Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole personally apologized to Wingate for the arrest.
Whitlatch was placed on desk duty in January while the incident was being reviewed. Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said Monday there has been no change in her employment status.
Pierce Murphy, the civilian head of the department’s Office of Professional Accountability (OPA), said “there are a few open investigations that are public knowledge,” an apparent reference to investigations involving Wingate’s arrest as well as Whitlatch’s social-media posts in which she is alleged to have made racially derogatory comments.
Murphy said his office still has time within the 180-day limit for internal investigations required under the city’s contract with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild.