Not all news stories are created the same. Sometimes I open up the newspaper, read a headline, and nod my head. Some criminals charged with a crime do deserve to be charged, just like they deserve to have their rights protected.
With other crimes, however, things stop making sense quickly. This story is certainly one of those.
Last July, an elderly African-American Seattle resident named William Wingate was arrested and jailed for carrying a golf club and not immediately obeying an officer's orders. Wingate claims that he failed to obey the officer's orders because he was scared.
Wingate was taking his daily walk, using the club as a cane, when the officer allegedly saw him swing it in a threatening manner. The officer circled the block, pulled up alongside him, and repeatedly asked him to drop the club.
Video of the incident taken by the officer's car's dashboard cam appears to show that Wingate had difficulty understanding the officer. He refused to drop the club and was arrested for obstruction and harassment. He pleaded guilty to unlawful use of a weapon under an agreement that would allow the charge to be dismissed if he complied with the court's conditions.
That conviction has since been dismissed by the City Attorney. Seattle police have apologized for the arrest and have started a review of the officer's conduct.
Wingate has also filed a civil suit against the city seeking no less than $750,000 in damages.
This may seem like low-hanging fruit, but even the most obvious problems can teach us important lessons. First, remember that our police department has had issues with the use of force in the past. The Department of Justice recently found that Seattle Police had engaged in a pattern of constitutional violations. After that finding, the department agreed to broad reforms. It is unclear whether or not those reforms have been successful.
My second point is a bit more difficult to digest. I understand that situations commonly arise where police officers act unreasonably. When passions have become escalated, it is hard to back down from them. I try to encourage my clients, however, to do what they can to obey.
Here, Wingate clearly did nothing wrong. He was arrested, charged, and plead guilty to a crime. If not for some public backlash and threats of a civil suit, it is likely that the conviction would remain, at least for a time.
Many of my clients cannot afford that type of legal trouble. If a cop approaches you in a way that you deem unreasonable, do your best to follow their instructions. Yes, it may be angering if they continue to place you under arrest, but police officers are people too. In most situations, if you stay calm and respectful, they will do the same.
Attorney Steve Karimi has years of experience as a prosecutor and defense attorney in and around Seattle. If you have been charged with a crime, do not hesitate to contact him for a free consultation.