Former Seattle Police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch has settled a case with the city, where she will receive more than $100,000 in back pay and have her status changed from terminated to retired in lieu of termination.
Former Seattle Police Officer Cynthia Whitlatch has settled a case with the city, where she will receive more than $100,000 in back pay and have her status changed from terminated to retired in lieu of termination.
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A former Seattle Police officer who lost her job after an unnecessarily aggressive confrontation with a man walking in Capitol Hill back in 2014 will be receiving more than $100,000 in back pay following a settlement with the city. Cynthia Whitlatch can now also consider herself retired, and not fired.

Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole fired Whitlatch in September 2015, following an Office or Professional Accountability investigation into the officer’s handling of the July 9, 2014 terry stop of William Wingate.

Wingate, then 69, had been walking along East Pike Street while using a golf club as a cane. Whitlatch pulled her patrol car over as Wingate was waiting at a light on the northwest corner of 12th Avenue East, yelling at the elderly black man to drop his club.

In an initial police report, Whitlatch wrote she had seen Wingate raise the golf club and begin to swing it in a threatening manner, striking a stop sign. In a later interview with OPA, Whitlatch said she had not seen Wingate raise his club, nor did she hear a stop sign being struck, according to the case memo submitted by OPA Director Pierce Murphy.

Wingate, who believes the stop was racially motivated, subsequently won $325,000 in damages in a civil jury trial where the city, SPD and Whitlatch were defendants in November 2016.

Prior to his arrest, Wingate turned his club and a plastic bag over to another officer that responded to Whitlatch’s backup call. He was then handcuffed and walked to the nearby East Precinct without the assistance of a club or cane, according to his complaint, and refused a request for water for eight hours.

Wingate was booked into the King County Jail for harassment and obstructing a police officer, but the city prosecutor’s office dismissed the case and SPD Deputy Chief Carmen Best issued Wingate an apology.

"Your perceptions of race and other protected categories appear to be so deeply seated that they likely impacted the authoritarian manner in which you treated this man and your refusal to deviate from that approach towards an individual whose actions did not warrant such treatment," O’Toole wrote in her termination letter.

The civil jury trial found Whitlatch violated Wingate’s 14th Amendment equal protection rights and that the 18-year veteran officer was liable under the Washington Law Against Discrimination, but did not believe she acted maliciously or in reckless disregard of Wingate’s federally protected rights.

Because Wingate was serving as a Seattle Police office at the time, the City of Seattle was liable for the $325,000 in damages.

Former Seattle Police Officers Guild president Ron Smith had issued a media release in September 2015, stating the OPA investigation into Whitlatch’s actions had missed a 180-day timeline from when a complaint about the incident was made, and that Whitlatch could not face discipline, according to terms of SPOG’s collective bargaining agreement with the city.

Following Whitlatch’s firing, SPOG filed a grievance, which prompted a disciplinary review board.

The agreement, which O’Toole signed on Saturday, Aug. 26, and Whitlatch and current SPOG president Kevin Stuckey on Aug. 14 and 15, respectively, does not alter the guild’s collective bargaining agreement.

Described as a “compromise of disputed claims,” the agreement provides Whitlatch with 23 months of back wages at 90 hours per month and $48.86 an hour (around $101,000). Whitlatch will also receive another $4,400 for back wages from Aug. 16 to Sept. 15, which is the date when the officer’s “termination will be retroactively changed to retirement in lieu of termination…” according to the agreement. This will allow Whitlatch to collect a pension.

In return, Whitlatch will drop any and all claims against the city, and also be unable to file for damages or compensation from the city in the future, according to the agreement.

The city also agrees to be on the hook for any future legal claims that may arise as as result of Whitlatch’s alleged actions while serving as a police officer.

“The City is currently unaware of other use-of-force claims made against Officer Whitlatch,” the agreement states.

Whitlatch also will not seek another law enforcement position elsewhere.

City Attorney Pete Holmes, under pressure from the public and Community Police Commission, issued a news release on Sept. 1, stating part of the reason for settling the case was the real possibility that Whitlatch could have not only ended up winning her back pay, but also could have been reinstated as a Seattle Police officer.

"I fully supported Chief O’Toole’s September 15, 2015, disciplinary decision at the time, and I continue to support it now,” Holmes wrote. “In arbitration, however, the City’s defense was significantly affected by technical and procedural issues under SPOG’s Collective Bargaining Agreement that has long governed—and continues to govern–such proceedings. Most significantly, the union could present a serious argument that all discipline was completely barred because the officer was not notified of the Chief’s disciplinary decision within 180 days of a sworn supervisor’s knowledge of the underlying facts. Although there was room for dispute over this issue, the possibility that Ms. Whitlatch might be reinstated as an SPD Officer by the Disciplinary Review Board, with full back pay, led my office to entertain discussions of compromise with SPOG.”

Holmes wrote that this case reinforces the need for the city to “regain its ability to manage, discipline, and hold officers accountable without the impediments that have been inserted into collective bargaining agreements over the years.”