Today in celebration of Black History Month, we recognize the contributions of Vonda Sargent, a Washington state civil rights lawyer.
Vonda has worked on many civil rights cases throughout her career. Two notable highlights are the Wingate and Henderson cases.
WINGATE V. WHITLATCH
In Wingate v. Whitlatch, a police officer arrested a 69-year-old black man walking with a golf club as a cane to deliver The Facts newspaper in the Central District to shut-ins. During trial, Vonda showed that Officer Whitlatch’s treatment of Mr. Wingate was racially motivated, which dictated the way she interacted with him. The jury found her liable for her actions, and she was fired by the SPD, not for racial discrimination but for lying about the incident to the SPD. She also agreed to never work in law enforcement again. SPD issued an apology for the false arrest of Mr. Wingate.
HENDERSON V. THOMPSON
In Henderson v. Thompson, Vonda represented a Black woman, Ms. Henderson, who was rear-ended a white woman, Ms. Thompson. During trial Thompson’s defense attorney, who is also white, used racist tropes and suggested impropriety between Henderson and her witnesses who were all Black. The trial judge allowed language with racial overtones to be used by Thompson’s attorney despite objections by Vonda. Vonda appealed all the the way to the Washington Supreme Court which held that “if racial bias is a factor in the decision of a judge or jury that decision does not achieve substantial justice, and it must be reversed.” This was a landmark decision from Washington’s Supreme Court that acknowledged racial bias within the court system and held that all parties in civil cases are entitled to a trial free from racial bias.