Seattle black man arrested for walking with golf club sues city, officer

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 28, 2015 2:46 PM

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE (Reuters) - An elderly black man arrested last summer while walking down a Seattle street with a golf club has sued the city and the officer who took him into custody, claiming the incident was racially motivated, his attorney said on Tuesday.

William Wingate, 70, is seeking about $750,000 in damages for racial discrimination, violation of his civil rights and "substantial humiliation, mental and emotional distress," stemming from his July 2014 arrest by a white police officer, according to the complaint.

The lawsuit says Seattle officer Cynthia Whitlatch targeted Wingate because of his race and lied about the circumstances of his arrest, including an allegation he swung the golf club at her.

All charges against Wingate were dropped shortly after his arrest, and the incident was captured on police dash-cam video.

"He was arrested for walking down the street while black," said Wingate's attorney, Susan Mindenbergs. "People like Mr. Wingate have to stand up and say 'this is going to stop,'"

The lawsuit comes as violent protests have erupted in Baltimore over the death this month of a black man after being arrested by local police. [ID:nL1N0XP0VZ]

The death of Freddie Gray was the latest in a string of incidents in which unarmed black men were killed by white police officers, sparking a national debate about use of force and the treatment of minorities by law enforcement.

Around 8 percent of the Seattle population is black, compared to 63 percent of Baltimore, according to the U.S. Census.

Wingate, a military veteran who requires a cane to walk, was using the golf club as a crutch, according to court papers.

In January, the Seattle Police Department, which is under federal monitoring for excessive force, issued an apology to Wingate and returned his confiscated golf club.

The department also released video of his arrest, in which Wingate can be seen standing on a sidewalk, casually leaning on the club before the officer approaches and yells at him to drop his weapon. He refused for several minutes before he was arrested.

Nowhere in the roughly seven-minute clip can he be seen swinging the club.

A spokeswoman for the Seattle City Attorney's office, which will handle defense for the city, said the office did not comment on pending litigation.

(Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Lisa Lambert)