Former Seattle police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch told a federal jury that the fallout from her arrest of an African-American man carrying a golf club as a cane has been devastating to her.
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 African-American man who was carrying a golf club as a cane that she viewed as a dangerous weapon.
Cynthia Whitlatch, testifying in a racial-discrimination lawsuit brought by William Wingate, 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 Whitlatch, sparking a heated verbal exchange between the two captured on patrol-car video that has emerged as a key evidence in the civil-rights suit seeking at least $750,000.
Under questioning by her attorney, Robert Christie, Whitlatch, 49, sobbed as she told jurors Tuesday that her testimony represented the first time she’s had her chance to tell “my side of the story.”
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Whitlatch, who is white, recounted that she had been fired over the incident, her family had suffered, her wife had divorced her in part over the fallout, she had been personally humiliated and been unable to defend herself.
Her arrest of Wingate had “nothing to do with his race,” Whitlatch told the jury, insisting it was motivated solely by her concern that he represented a threat to her and, potentially, the public.
Whitlatch acknowledged she didn’t immediately alert other officers to any danger, explaining she had no initial plans to arrest him and wanted to hear Wingate’s explanation.
But he was arrested after he didn’t comply with commands to drop the golf club, Whitlatch said.
Whitlatch also acknowledged she had harmed her own case through various actions after the incident, including a Facebook post in which she referred to “black peoples (sic) paranoia.”
She also admitted she had acted wrongly when she suggested a black judge had dismissed the criminal case against Wingate and a black deputy police chief had apologized to him because of their race.
“I lashed out because of the situation,” she said, telling jurors she was guilty of doing the same thing to them that has happened to her.
Whitlatch also explained the circumstances of an email she forwarded to herself, which documented the use of what she called the “N word” in what she considered an offensive video posted on Facebook by a colleague
While she was forced to fully use the word in court Monday in discussing the email, the actual word is not in the email.
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 another emotional moment, 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 also recalled how she had gone after an active shooter in a bar, unconcerned about the makeup of those inside because “I don’t care about those things.”
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.
When she found herself in front of Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole before her firing, she was “in shock” and “couldn’t believe it was happening,” Whitlatch testified, choking on her words.
She said she fully expects to win back her job on appeal.
“I love police work and I’m good at it,” she told the jury.