Seattle police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch accused an elderly man of threatening passersby with a golf club, a charge that ended with his conviction for unlawful use of a weapon.
Too bad her own squad car's dashboard camera shows that Whitlatch was lying.
The saga began in July. William Wingate, a 70-year-old retired bus driver and Air Force veteran, was walking to Seattle's Central District to purchase a newspaper, using a golf club as a cane for the 10-mile trek like he had for 20 years. But when Whitlatch spotted Wingate with his club, she pulled over her squad car, exited the car and told him to drop the club. Obtained by the Stranger through a public-information request, the footage shows an interaction directly conflicting with Whitlatch's accusations.
Take a look (the action begins at the 1:45 mark):
Whitlach pulls over in front of Wingate, who is standing at a crosswalk with his golf club hanging at his side, and asks him to put his club down. She clarifies "your golf club" to Wingate, who is hard of hearing.
"What about my golf club?" Wingate says. "What's going on? This is my golf club!"
"I'm not going to take it from you, but it's a weapon, so set it down," Whitlatch tells him. "I've been walking with this golf club for 20 years!" Wingate responds. At this point, Whitlatch informs him that he's being recorded. "You just swang that golf club at me!" Whitlatch says to Wingate, whom the video shows to have done no such thing.
Wingate was arrested and convicted of obstruction and unlawfully using a weapon, but prosecutors dropped those charges and apologized once it became clear that Wingate had done nothing wrong, the Seattle Times reports.
He told KIRO-TV he wasn't sure if he was being racially profiled. "I don't know," he said. "I know one thing. I'm a black man walking down the street doing nothing and I got stopped and went to jail by a white police officer."
The reaction to the video's release has been swift. On Wednesday, Seattle police chief Kathleen O'Toole ordered a "comprehensive review" of Whitlatch's work performance. A day later, that review turned up Facebook posts written by the officer in the aftermath of the civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, following the failure of a grand jury to indict a white officer in the shooting death of an unarmed black teenager.
In a comments-section exchange obtained by the Stranger, Whitlatch stated that "chronic black racism ... far exceeds any white racism in this country. I am tired of black people's paranoia that white people are out to get them."
O'Toole released another statement saying she's "shocked and disappointed" with Whitlatch's Facebook comments. She ordered further review of the officer's conduct, moved her to desk duty, "where she will have no interaction with the public," and is launching an independent investigation with the police department's Professional Accountability office.
Wingate has filed a $750,000 claim against the City of Seattle and and won't be walking that route ever again. "They could do something else to me," he said.
Whitlatch says she's tired of "black people's paranoia" that white people are out to get them. If she's so tired of it, perhaps she should stop proving that fear to be grounded in fact.