Seattle man needed state official’s help to avoid charges for ‘walking while black’
Despite criticism from both the public and a former state lawmaker, Seattle police defended arresting a 70-year-old black man last year without justification before a top Black official intervened, the Stranger reported.
According to former state Rep. Dawn Mason (D), officials “tried to convince me nothing was wrong” when Officer Cynthia Whitlach arrested William Wingate for allegedly threatening her with his golf club.
The Stranger posted dashboard camera footage on Wednesday of Wingate’s arrest after recently acquiring it through a public records request. The video shows Whitlach stopping her patrol car in front of Wingate, then ordering him to let go of the club, which he uses as a makeshift cane.
Wingate, a retired veteran and local bus driver, can be heard saying in the video that he has used the club to help him get around for 20 years.
“You just swung that golf club at me,” Whitlach tells him at one point.
“No I did not,” he replies.
Whitlach then claims that it happened “right back there,” adding that “it was on audio and video tape.”
However, both the department and city council member Bruce Harrell said there is no proof to back up Whitlach’s allegation.
“The allegation that he swung at the police car wasn’t corroborated by any other facts and was not caught on any video,” Harrell told the Stranger. “What was caught on video was him minding his own business with the golf club at his side.”
Three minutes after encountering Whitlach, Wingate is arrested by another officer, Chris Coles. He was subsequently charged with harassment and obstruction. Mason said she became interested in the case after seeing footage of Wingate needing a footstool to be able to get into a paddywagon.
“Seventy years of beating the odds of never having been arrested — a black man. Served in the military for 20 years. Worked with the police, because you do that as a bus driver. And here he is standing on the corner,” Mason said. “He ends up handcuffed and put in a police wagon and put in jail overnight. The system failed this man. He never should have been stopped. Once he got to the precinct, reason should have prevailed.”
Instead, she said, local prosecutors going off of the police incident report charged him with unlawful use of a weapon. Wingate’s attorney, Susan Mindenbergs, said that he was told that “it will all be over, basically” if he signed an order of continuance.
In reality, the agreement — which Wingate signed at the behest of a public defender — would have required him to comply with a judge’s orders for two years before his case could be dismissed.
Mason’s efforts led in part to the case against Wingate being dismissed last September. She said that Assistant Chief Nick Metz “kept trying to convince us nothing was wrong” while watching footage of the arrest with her and Captain Pierre Davis, who heads up the district where Wingate was detained.
Mason credited Deputy Chief Carmen Best, who is also black, with helping end the case against Wingate, following discussions with prosecutors.
“They know that had this been a white man, we wouldn’t be here,” Mason said.
However, the department insisted that race was not a factor in the encounter.
“If this person had been white, I would imagine it would have been the same outcome.” police spokesperson Sean Whitcomb said. “We don’t believe this was a biased policing incident. We don’t believe the officer acted out of malice or targeted this man because of his race.”
Whitlach was never disciplined for her actions. Wingate has filed a claim seeking damages from the city, saying his crime was “walking in Seattle while black.”
Watch footage of Wingate’s arrest, as posted on Wednesday, below.