Seattle police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch, who arrested a man for carrying a golf club she viewed as a weapon, expressed strong displeasure with prosecutors for not pursuing an additional charge of obstructing a public officer, according to newly disclosed emails.
A Seattle police officer who arrested a 69-year-old man for carrying a golf club she viewed as a weapon expressed strong displeasure with prosecutors for not pursuing an additional charge of obstructing a public officer, according to newly disclosed emails.
The emails shed new light on the actions of Cynthia Whitlatch, a white officer whose July 9 arrest of a black man, William Wingate, along with a racially charged Facebook post, has triggered a wide-ranging internal investigation of Whitlatch’s work history and led to her being placed on paid leave at home.
The emails, along with other records, were released Thursday by the Seattle City Attorney’s Office under a public-disclosure request filed by The Seattle Times.
Wingate, now 70, was arrested July 9 for investigation of unlawful use of a weapon and obstructing after Whitlatch saw him walking on Capitol Hill with a golf club. Prosecutors opted to only pursue the weapon offense, and on July 10 Wingate agreed to a continuance of his case under which the misdemeanor charge would be dropped in two years if he met court conditions.
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Whitlatch wrote an email to Assistant City Attorney Barbara Serrano on July 19 inquiring about the case.
“I am wondering what the status of this case is and why the charge of obstruction was dropped,” Whitlatch wrote.
“Mr. Wingate was clearly obstructing as is reflected in the ICV,” she added, referring to the in-car video from her patrol car.
Serrano responded in a July 21 email, telling Whitlatch that she had handled Wingate’s arraignment.
“At that time, our office had decided to file a complaint for unlawful use of weapons (golf club). We declined to file a charge for obstructing a police officer.”
Serrano informed Whitlatch she planned to talk with the prosecutor who made the decision and get back to Whitlatch.
Whitlatch quickly responded by email, writing: “Thanks! As far as obstruction cases go this guy was one of the most obstinate, uncooperative, and obstructive suspects I’ve dealt with in my 17+ years in patrol. He received warning after warning. I would like to see him charged. The behavior was completely unacceptable toward any law-enforcement officer. It would be nice if that message would be made clear with charges.”
On July 22, Assistant City Attorney John Mason, who handled the disposition, sent an email to Whitlatch and Serrano.
“It was clear to me when I filed that the suspect was a giant pain to deal with,” wrote Mason, who only had read police reports describing the arrest but had not viewed the in-car video that later surfaced and raised questions about Whitlatch’s account.
Mason cited the dispositional continuance, noting that for two years it required Wingate not to possess any weapons or commit any crimes.
Mason further noted that Wingate had spent a short time in jail.
“I didn’t charge Obstructing because the defendant is 69 years old, uses the golf club as a cane, and was not brandishing it or threatening the officer at the time of the obstructing,” Mason wrote in the email. “I felt we would have problems proving he was refusing ‘to cease an activity or behavior that creates a risk of injury to any person.’ ”
The in-car video had not been obtained by the City Attorney’s Office when Wingate, in consultation with an appointed defender, agreed to the deal, Kimberly Mills, spokeswoman for the office, said Thursday.
At the time, there was a lag of days or weeks to obtain video, and it was not needed after the deal was struck because the case had concluded, Mills said.
In late August, a personal representative of Wingate’s called City Attorney Pete Holmes to express concerns about Wingate’s case, Mills said.
Holmes enlisted the aid of Craig Sims, the chief criminal deputy, who obtained the case file and video. Sims initiated discussions with Deputy Police Chief Carmen Best, who, after her own review, agreed with prosectors that the unlawful-weapon charge should be dismissed, Mills said.
At the request of prosecutors, a judge dismissed the charge Sept. 19.
Whitlatch, in her version of events, wrote in her report that while driving in her patrol car, she saw Wingate walking on Capitol Hill.
Whitlatch wrote that she made eye contact with Wingate, who was carrying a golf club he was using like a cane.
Whitlatch said as she turned, she saw Wingate raise the club and start to swing it.
“As I passed I heard the loud metallic sound of the golf club hitting the metal stop sign post,” she wrote.
While looking back in her rearview mirror, Whitlatch wrote, she saw Wingate still looking toward her. He swung the club twice toward her car, she added.
Whitlatch wrote that she wasn’t certain Wingate’s action was “directed at me” until she saw him in the rearview mirror. Whitlatch’s in-car video did not capture those events.
Whitlatch wrote that she contacted Wingate, and considered he was using the golf club as a cane. But, she wrote, she concluded he was not using it for balance when he transferred it between hands.
“I told him it was a weapon …,” Whitlatch wrote, describing Wingate as argumentative before he finally surrendered the club.
Wingate’s “demeanor was hostile and his actions were threatening and I perceived them as such,” Whitlatch wrote, noting she told Wingate to put down the club about 20 to 25 times.
Another officer who responded to the scene wrote in his own report that Wingate had repeatedly said he had done nothing wrong.
But when asked if he had done something with the club that might have struck fear in the public or the officer, Wingate replied, “Maybe.” But Wingate said he didn’t think he did anything that warranted the police to get involved, the officer wrote.
Whitlatch, 47, came under scrutiny last week when the in-car video of the incident was made public. It was also disclosed that she made racially charged comments on Facebook last summer related to the events in Ferguson, Mo., within two months of arresting Wingate.
She was placed on desk duty last week, but on Tuesday she was put on home leave with pay amid new allegations.
“Given the totality of the circumstances, I thought it was best,” said Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole.
O’Toole said she acted in response to new allegations directed to the department and its Office of Professional Accountability, which is conducting an internal investigation of Whitlatch’s conduct.
No details were provided on the new allegations, except that they include claims from Whitlatch’s former girlfriend that Whitlatch once took marijuana from evidence and made racist remarks in the past.