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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 4, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 36
SPD accountability office screwed up Whitlatch investigation, police union charges
Officer exempt from discipline because OPA took too long
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SPD accountability office screwed up Whitlatch investigation, police union charges
Officer exempt from discipline because OPA took too long

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Seattle police officer Cynthia Whitlatch - accused of racist policing in an incident involving an elderly African American man - can't be disciplined for her actions because the Police Department's Office of Professional Accountability (OPA) allowed the investigation to drag on too long, according to the union that represents police officers.

Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG) President Ron Smith said in a press release dated September 1 that his union's contract with the City of Seattle stipulates that SPD may not discipline officers if the investigation of a complaint against them takes more than 180 days.

The investigation against Whitlatch, Smith says, took 323 days before being completed on July 24.

Whitlatch stopped then-69-year-old William Wingate on July 9, 2014, ordered him to drop the golf club he was using as a cane, and subsequently arrested him. A dashcam video shows that Whitlatch lied when she later claimed that Wingate assaulted her with the golf club.

Whitlatch got into more trouble when she posted racially inflammatory remarks on her Facebook page, and she was ultimately fired by SPD.

In a phone interview with SGN, Smith went out of his way to emphasize that he was not taking a position on Whitlatch's guilt or innocence.

'I'm just defending our contract,' Smith told SGN. 'You sit down and you negotiate a contract, and if they don't comply I have no choice.

'It's no different from teachers, or longshoremen. What we do here [at SPOG] is provide our members with due process rights.

'By the letter of the contract OPA needed to complete their investigation in 180 days. If they couldn't do that, they needed to ask for an extension. And they didn't.'

SPOG is required by their contract to grant all 'reasonable' requests for extensions, Smith explained.

According to SPOG's press release, the first complaint against Whitlatch was made September 4, 2014, at a meeting involving community leaders and Whitlatch's supervisors, Police Captain Pierre Davis and then-Assistant Chief Nick Metz.

The formal OPA complaint against Whitlatch was not filed until January 28, 2015, but Smith argues that the timeline of the complaint should go back to the initial meeting with Davis and Metz.

'They should have taken the information and forwarded it to OPA,' he explained. 'I don't know why they didn't. Maybe they felt the community members were heard and were satisfied. The community members certainly thought they were making a complaint.'

When OPA finally got the complaint in January, Smith says, OPA Director Pierce Murphy should have realized he needed an extension on the 180-day deadline.

'He should have looked at the file and said, 'Oh my God! I have two commanders who didn't do what they should have done.' And then he should have called me and asked for the extension,' Smith told SGN.

This is not the first time Murphy has delayed investigations, Smith charged.

'There have been multiple incidents,' he said. 'I don't know if it's intentional or if [Murphy] is just not capable of running such a complex system.

'The Mayor needs to look long and hard at the performance of Mr. Murphy. It looks like he's not capable of doing his job.'

Murphy's office said he had received several calls from media, but would not comment on the story. Jason Kelly, press secretary for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, did not return SGN's phone calls for a comment.

Smith told SGN he realizes some Seattle residents will believe he's just trying to get Whitlatch off the hook, but he insists that Murphy is to blame.

'I'm very mindful of community complaints,' he told SGN. 'I'm mindful of our responsibility to treat people equitably across all lines - race, sexual orientation, everything.

'I put it back on him [Murphy]. I look at the file in this case and it just jumps off the page at me.'

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