William Wingate, who was arbitrarily arrested by Officer Cythia Whitlatch for using a golf club as a cane, leads a protest march on February 7, 2015. Photo by Kaia D’Albora

Cops and Conduct

City Attorney Says Seattle Settled With Whitlatch So That She’d Never Police Again

The former SPD officer who was fired for racial bias received more than $100,000 from the city.

On Friday, Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes released a written explanation for why he agreed to a settlement with former Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlatch for more than $100,000. Whitlatch, who is white, was fired in 2015 after she arbitrarily arrested an elderly black man who was using a golf club as a cane and then refused to apologize.

Holmes said he supports Chief Kathleen O’Toole’s decision to sack Whitlatch. He said he settled because pressing forward would have risked reinstating Whitlatch as an active SPD officer.

“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,” Holmes wrote. “Most significantly, the union could present a serious argument that all discipline was completely barred because the officer [Whitlatch] was not notified of the Chief’s disciplinary decision within 180 days of a sworn supervisor’s knowledge of the underlying facts. … 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.”

In the final agreement between SPOG and the city, Whitlatch received more than $100,000 in back-pay, plus early retirement benefits. In exchange, she promised to never work as a cop again, wrote Holmes. O’Toole signed the settlement last week, according to The Seattle Times.

“The City must regain its ability to manage, discipline, and hold officers accountable without the impediments that have been inserted into collective bargaining agreements over the years,” Holmes wrote. “This case demonstrates the vital importance obtaining of new agreements with our police unions that fully embrace reforms achieved through the Consent Decree.”

Holmes was responding to a Thursday, August 1 letter from the Community Police Commission (CPC) demanding a detailed explanation for why Whitlatch got a golden parachute. “There have been longstanding issues with initial discipline being adjusted after appeal in a way that undermined the transparency and legitimacy of the initial discipline process,” the letter says. The CPC also requested all documents related to the investigation of both Whitlatch and her superiors, whose failure to immediately report the incident allowed SPOG to argue the city had violated their contract by not closing the investigation into Whitlatch quickly enough.

SPOG president Officer Kevin Stuckey disputed Holmes’ attribution of blame to SPOG’s contract. “That settlement had nothing to do with the contract,” he said. “They knew that they couldn’t win.” Referrring to Holmes’ explanation, Stuckey said, “I find it hilarious…If you were going to vigorously defend anything, why didn’t you?”

“They love to blame our contract,” Stuckey said, even though the contract was mutually agreed to. “Our contract, our rules, which they sat down and negotiated—this was not a gun to their head. 180 days sounds small, but it’s six months. That’s longer than the baseball season.” Stuckey said that if the OPA investigation into Whitlatch needed more time, they could have requested it. “Our contract has provisions that if they need an extension they could have asked for that,” said Stuckey. “They could have asked me.”

Scott Lindsay, former public safety advisor to Mayor Ed Murray and challenger to Holmes for City Attorney in the upcoming November election, said he found the payout “deeply troubling,” but couldn’t judge whether or not the settlement was appropriate without more information.

Asked for comment, mayoral candidate Jenny Durkan said in a prepared statement that she is “concerned about the outcome of the case.

“The abuse of power was clear,” said Durkan. “This action has the real potential of undermining reform efforts by eroding community trust and by sending a signal that officers will be protected instead of held accountable.”

Her opponent, Cary Moon, responded to Whitlatch’s settlement on Twitter:

cjaywork@seattleweekly.com

This post has been updated. Also, a previous version inaccurately stated Kevin Stuckey’s rank as Detective.

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