Jury selection began Monday in a federal civil rights trial against a former Seattle police officer who arrested an elderly Black man for allegedly hitting a stop sign with a golf club, the Seattle Times reports.
In July 2014, William Wingate, 69 at the time, was on his daily walk, using his golf club as a cane. Former Officer Cynthia Whitlatch, patrolling in her cruiser, stopped Wingate and ordered him to put down the golf club. Whitlatch, who is White, accused him of using it as a weapon, hitting a stop sign as she passed him.
Wingate denied the allegation and refused to put down the club. The two then had an angry exchange, recorded on dash-cam video.
Whitlatch, 49, who served for nearly 20 years in the Seattle Police Department, arrested the senior for unlawful use of a weapon and obstructing a police officer.
News of the incident led to protests in which demonstrators marched using golf clubs as canes.
Ultimately, the prosecutor dismissed all charges after a former state lawmaker questioned the arrest, the newspaper reported.
In an internal investigation, Whitlatch admitted that she didn’t actually see the Air Force veteran hit the stop sign. Whitlatch walked back her earlier statement and now says she saw a swinging motion, heard a loud noise and saw Wingate stare at her.
The former officer’s racial views also came to light, complicating her defense. The Stranger reported her Facebook comments posted shortly after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri:
“I’m tired of black peoples (sic) paranoia that white people are out to get them. …I am tired of black people saying poor poor me when other races and genders and homeless and gays suffer far more prejudice than any black man does in the US.”
The department fired her and apologized to Wingate.
In his federal civil rights suit, Wingate accuses the ex-officer of racial discrimination and emotional distress. Wingate said he now fears police officers he’s unacquainted with and has had treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress from the encounter.
The Times said that Whitlatch, however, insists that she’s the actual victim of racial discrimination.