An Elderly Man Using a Golf Club as a Cane was Arrested After an Officer Felt Threatened, Now a Jury Deliberates on his Discrimination Lawsuit
Deliberations began Monday as an eight-member jury heard the case of an African-American man who alleged racial discriminated after a Seattle police officer arrested him for carrying a golf club, which he used as a cane.
According to the Seattle Times, jury members heard closing arguments before weighing in on whether 72-year-old William Wingate was entitled to at least $750,000 or more in punitive damages over his arrest by veteran Seattle police officer Cynthia Witlatch.
The lawsuit accuses Witlatch of racial discrimination for arresting Wingate for wielding a golf club on the side of the road on July 9, 2014. The 49-year-old officer asserted that the elderly man’s race played no role in her decision to detain him after Wingate reportedly swung the golf club at her police cruiser as she drove by.
Wingate maintained he never swung the club at her. However, the elderly man was still arrested for unlawful use of a weapon and obstruction of a police officer, resulting in 30 hours behind bars, the Seattle Times reports.
“Two lives are connected that day and his is forever changed,” said Wingate’s attorney Susan Mindenbergs in her opening statement last week, where she insisted her that client had been deeply traumatized by the confrontation with Witlatch.
Witlatch’s lawyer Robert Christie, on the other hand, encouraged the jury to hear both sides of the story before passing judgement.
The initial incident between Wingate and Witlatch wasn’t caught on dash cam video, but jurors were able to view a heated exchange between the two parties when Witlatch exited her cruiser to confront the golf-club toting Wingate, according to the newspaper. The veteran cop was ultimately fired from her position after the encounter.
During closing arguments, Vonda Sargent — another one of Wingate’s attorneys – pointed to the Witlatch’s alleged racist views of Black people. Sargent cited an instance where the ex-officer posted her bigoted views to social media, criticizing “Black people’s paranoia” in assuming that white people were “out to get them.” Per the Seattle Times, the post was written in July 2014 following riots in Ferguson, Missouri sparked by the police shooting of Michael Brown.
The attorney also pressed Witlatch to admit that she had used the N-word in an offensive e-mail she forwarded to herself. Witlatch eventually confessed to writing the e-mail and going on a rant on social media about how minorities, gays and women work hard to be successful in life while Black people get away with things by pulling the race card, the paper reports.
“The time has come to stop this, stop it in its tracks,” Sargent said.
Jurors are expected to continue deliberating the case on Tuesday.