William Wingate was arrested in July 2014, but his circumstances have drawn even more scrutiny after released dash-cam video of the incident shows how controversial it truly was.
According to the publication The Stranger, which got the video through a public-records request, the 70-year-old Air Force vet had a habit of walking through Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood to pick up copies of The Facts newspaper. On his regular walks, Wingate, who is also a former King County Metro bus driver, used a golf club as a cane.
However, on July 9 at around 1 p.m., Seattle Police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch spotted the elderly vet and, perceiving the golf club to be a weapon, yelled at him to drop it.
In the video, which is currently available on YouTube, Whitlatch accuses Wingate of swinging the golf club at her and hitting a stop sign.
"You just swung that golf club at me," Whitlatch could be heard shouting in the video.
"No, I did not!" a defensive Wingate insisted.
"Right back there," Whitlatch claims. "It was on audio- and videotape."
The video bears no evidence of such actions on Whitlatch's part, and the Seattle Police Department has acknowledged that there is no video that exists to back up the officer's claim.
"The allegation that he swung at the police car wasn't corroborated by any other facts and was not caught on any video. What was caught on video was him minding his own business with the golf club at his side," City Council member Bruce Harrell told The Stranger.
Whitlatch called for backup after Wingate refused to drop his golf club, insisting that she call someone else to the scene. However, he was still handcuffed and booked on harassment and obstruction charges. Prior to this, the older man had no criminal record.
"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," former Democratic Rep. Dawn Mason told The Stranger. "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."
According to The Stranger, Whitlatch is one of more than 100 officers who sued the government last year in hopes of blocking the implementation of Department of Justice policies on use of force. She has not been disciplined in this incident. However, the SPD stated that "Deputy Chief Best personally met with the man, returned his golf club and offered an apology for his arrest. The officer who made the arrest received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be an appropriate resolution."
Read more at The Stranger.