Video: Seattle police arrest elderly veteran for 'walking while black'

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

Seattle, WA — A 70-year-old Air Force veteran was walking down the street using a golf club as a cane, as he did every day, when a Seattle police officer pulled over and yelled at him to drop the club.

The entire incident which happened on July 9, 2014 was captured by Officer Cynthia Whitlatch’s dash cam and recently acquired by The Stranger.

Whitlatch remains behind her car and shouts 17 times for William Wingate to drop the club, claiming “it is a weapon.” At one point, Whitlatch claims Wingate swung the club at her and hit a stop sign, though the dash cam did not record that happening.

Watch the incident starting at 1:40

“You just swung that golf club at me,” Whitlatch yells in the recording.

“No, I did not!” exclaims Wingate.

“Right back there,” Whitlatch says back. “It was on audio and video tape.”

When Whitlatch called for backup, Officer Chris Coles arrived. He approached Wingate, calling him “sir,” and asked for the club, which Wingate handed over. The officers then handcuffed him and arrested him; he was booked into jail on charges of harassment and obstruction.

When Democratic State Representative Dawn Mason saw the video recording, including a moment when officers had to slide a stool to Wingate when the elderly man had trouble getting into the police vehicle while still handcuff, she was moved.

“The man is 69 years old,” she said to The Stranger.”Seventy years of beating the odds of never having been arrested—a black man. Served in the military for 20 years. Worked with the police, because you do that as a bus driver.”

“And here he is standing on the corner,” she continued. “He ends up handcuffed and put in a police wagon and put in jail overnight… The system failed this man. He never should have been stopped. Once he got to the precinct, reason should have prevailed.”

Mason took a few white women, who were activists and “who know they have privilege and know they can make a difference,” into the precinct to view the video. While they were there, police commanders “kept trying to convince us nothing was wrong here.” They insisted that Whitlatch was afraid of Wingate after he swung the golf club at her.

“It’s like, c’mon lady. You were lying,” Mason said. “She wasn’t afraid of him at all.”

Wingate has since filed a claim against the city. “Family members and friends,” the complaint reads, “will attest to the emotional distress caused by the racial profiling, arrest, and incarceration of this man whose only crime was ‘walking in Seattle while black.'”

The SPD has since responded to the incident with a post to its Blotter:

“Deputy Chief Best personally met with the man, returned his golf club, and offered an apology for his arrest. The officer who made the arrest received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be an appropriate resolution.”