The Seattle Community Police Commission has questions over the payment of more than $100,000 to former Officer Cynthia Whitlatch, who was fired for biased and overly aggressive policing over the July 2014 arrest of William Wingate on Capitol Hill.
Members of the Seattle Community Police Commission have questions over the recent settlement agreement to pay a former police officer over $100,000 in back pay after she was fired in 2015 over her arrest of an elderly African-American man.
The commission is seeking a meeting with Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole and City Attorney Pete Holmes and have requested documents related to the settlement, which members only learned of from news reports Wednesday, says a letter signed by Executive Director Fé Lopez.
Former Officer Cynthia Whitlatch, an 18-year police veteran, received the settlement after she appealed her firing for biased and overly aggressive policing over the July 2014 arrest of William Wingate, now 72, on Capitol Hill.
Wingate, who was held in jail for 30 hours and charged with a misdemeanor crime before his case was dismissed, filed a federal lawsuit and was awarded $325,000 in November after a jury found that Whitlatch engaged in racial discrimination.
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His settlement plus legal fees cost taxpayers nearly $1.3 million.
The settlement agreement was signed last week by O’Toole.
Whitlatch, who is white, denied race played a role in her decision to detain Wingate after he, according to her testimony at trial, swung a golf club toward her patrol car as she drove by him at 12th Avenue and East Pike Street.
Wingate, who was 69 at the time of incident, maintained he never swung the club.
“As you’re no doubt aware, there is significant community interest in this case, particularly as the initial dismissal of Officer Whitlatch was widely reported, as was Chief O’Toole’s justification for that outcome,” Lopez wrote. “If there are legitimate reasons consistent with police accountability principles for the back pay agreement and for resignation in lieu of termination, it is important that those reasons be made clear to the public.”
Though Whitlatch was the subject of the settlement agreement, it came about as a result of a grievance filed by the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) over her termination because of the untimeliness of her discipline.
SPOG’s former president, Ron Smith, told The Seattle Times in 2015 he believed the department “blatantly violated” a requirement to complete the investigation within a required 180-day limit. Police should have opened it in September 2014, when two commanders learned of the matter at a meeting with community members, not in January 2015, Smith said at the time.
Under the settlement agreement, Whitlatch will receive a lump sum of $105,570.90 for back pay from the time of her firing in September 2015 through Sept. 15 of this year. Additionally, SPD will make a lump-sum contribution to her retirement fund for the disputed time, and change her status from “terminated” to “retired in lieu of termination.”
In exchange, Whitlatch agreed not to seek another job with the city or as a commissioned law-enforcement officer, the agreement says.
“There have been longstanding issues with initial discipline being adjusted after appeal in a way that undermined the transparency and legitimacy of the initial discipline process,” Lopez’s letter says.
Indeed, making sure the outcomes of post-discipline appeals are understood by the public was a priority for the commission in recommendations it made for reforms to police accountability, Lopez wrote.
In addition to asking for a meeting with O’Toole and Holmes, Lopez requested documents and files related to the Office of Professional Accountability’s (OPA) internal investigation of Whitlatch as well as an investigation “of supervisors or command staff who failed to appropriately report Officer Whitlatch’s apparent misconduct to OPA,” the letter says.
Commission members want to know whether any supervisors or commanders were also disciplined over the incident or the reasons discipline wasn’t imposed, the letter says.