Chief O'Toole Cans Officer Who Called Golf-Club Cane a Weapon

Chief Kathleen O'Toole has fired Officer Cynthia Whitlatch, who for many has become an emblem of all that is wrong with Seattle police.

Last summer, Whitlatch, who is white, arrested William Wingate, an elderly black man who was using a golf club as a cane. Whitlatch claimed that Wingate had threatened her by swinging the golf club in the direction of her car as she drove past.

Wingate went on to have his record expunged and to sue the city. Critics of police rallied around the incident, saying that it was a symptom of deeper problems in the police department. After investigating the incident, the Office of Professional Accountability recommended that O'Toole fire Whitlatch, but with strong opposition from the police union, it was not clear whether O'Toole would follow through...until today.

In her letter informing Whitlatch of the termination, O'Toole writes that based only on the stop itself, she considered demoting and retraining Whitlatch rather than terminating her:

"I gave serious consideration to a lengthy suspension and disciplinary transfer to a unit that does not interact with the public, as well as removal from the sergeant's promotional registry," wrote O'Toole.

It was Whitlatch's failure to acknowledge any wrongdoing and learn from her mistakes, O'Toole writes, that obliged the chief to end her career with SPD. In other words, O'Toole refraimed the issue from being solely about racial bias (a polarizing issue for police and their critics) to being also about professionalism (which is much more politically neutral.) From O'Toole's letter:

"[Y]our inability to understand, even in hindsight, that your behavior was unnecessarily aggressive, an abuse of discretion, and negatively impacted the community's confidence in this police service, offers me no pathway to confidence that your behavior will improve or change. Without this ability to learn from your mistakes, understand how you can improve and do better, and recognize your own errors, you are unable to effectively function as an officer."

The police union had a decidedly different take on the termnation. Seattle Police Guild President Ron Smith said in an email:

“I am disappointed that Chief O’Toole caved under the enormous political pressure and made this decision. The department has clearly violated the collective bargaining agreement section 3.6B, and as such an appeal will be filed if requested by Officer Whitlach.”

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