Congressional candidate Jesse Wineberry says Seattle police officers escalated a traffic stop in his campaign van to a point where he felt his life was in danger, and has asked the city to investigate.
Wineberry, who is black, said at a press conference Thursday that the stop brought to mind the fatal police shootings of Che Taylor in Seattle earlier this year and of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO in 2014, and of Trayvon Martin by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman in Florida in 2012.
“Literally, a chill went through my spine,” Wineberry said.
Wineberry, a businessman who served parts of Seattle in the Washington House of Representatives from 1984 to 1994, also said at the press conference that a Seattle Times editorial mischaracterized his statements to make him sound like he was questioning incumbent Congressman Adam Smith’s ability to represent Washington’s Ninth District because Smith is white. Wineberry says he did not say that, and the Times since posted a correction.
Wineberry, 61, is challenging fellow Democrat Smith for his seat in the congressional Ninth District.
Smith, a 10-term incumbent, is also being challenged by Republican Doug Basler, Democrat Daniel Smith and independent Jeary Flener. The top two vote-getters in Tuesday’s primary will proceed to the general election in November, regardless of party.
Wineberry says Adam Smith’s lack of passed legislation and absentee record from votes are the reasons that about 30 King County clergymen drafted him to run for office.
Wineberry was in a minivan rented through his campaign during the traffic stop where he contends officers overreacted with threatening words. Wineberry and the rental company, E-Z Rent A Car in SeaTac, both attest the initial stop was caused by a misunderstanding.
Wineberry says his campaign had rented the van for a week and campaign staff had intended to renew the rental agreement, but had not done so before company reported the minivan stolen. (A day after the traffic stop, Wineberry cleared the matter up with the rental company.)
The rental agency’s manager wrote a letter affirming Wineberry’s account, which was distributed to the press on Thursday.
“It was clear to me that this was a misunderstanding and he did not intend to steal our vehicle. … Typically, when we report a non-return vehicle, the customer is put on our ‘Do Not Rent’ list. In this case, we would welcome Rep. Wineberry’s business in the future,” wrote the rental agency’s general manager David Gundel.
On July 20 at about 8:30 p.m. police pulled over Wineberry in the minivan.
Wineberry said he has no problem with being pulled over because of the van rental mix-up, but he said police officers — one black and the rest white — then surrounded him and cuffed his hands behind his back.
“I was protesting the way they were treating someone like me,” Wineberry said.
Despite his own hands cuffed behind his back, Wineberry said one officer said: “Get your hands off my gun belt.”
Wineberry called that phrase “code” to allow officers to escalate the situation, up to possibly shooting him.
“It was code for justified use of force, including shooting … I saw Trayvon flash. I saw Michael flash. I saw Che Taylor flash,” Wineberry said.
Officers took Wineberry to the South Precinct station. There, a sergeant talked to him and agreed that a misunderstanding with the rental agency led to the police stopping the minivan. Police released Wineberry without booking him at about 11:30 p.m.
Seattle’s Office of Professional Accountability confirmed Thursday that it received Wineberry’s complaint. Such a complaint takes 60 to 180 days to investigate.
On Thursday, Wineberry also criticized a July 14 Seattle Times editorial that portrayed him as saying in an editorial board interview session that Adam Smith could not represent the multiracial Ninth District as adequately as someone who was black could. Wineberry contended he never said such a thing.
“In one (editorial) sentence, I’d been branded as a wild-eyed racist,” Wineberry said.
Republican congressional candidate Doug Basler who was at the same interview session, also came to the press conference and agreed that Wineberry was mischaracterized.
The Times editorial page editor Kate Riley said the first time she heard about Wineberry’s concern was Wednesday. She checked the tape of the July 14 interview session, and agreed that Wineberry was misrepresented in the editorial. The Times added a correction to that editorial on Wednesday.
Wineberry said since the July 14 editorial, he and his campaign have been hit with an upswing in harassment, including one racist phone call to his election headquarters and increased sign vandalism. Wineberry said he couldn’t prove a definite connection between the editorial and the harassment, but noted the timing.