Review panels on the Aug. 25, 2010, fatal shooting of 74-year-old Pastor Wayne Scott Creach concluded last week what Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker declared in January: that Spokane Valley Police Officer Brian Hirzel acted in a “reasonable and justified” manner by using deadly force.
However, Creach’s son, Alan, has been more and more visible lately in calling for changes to laws that allow for the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office to use unmarked cars for patrol purposes. On April 26, Alan Creach addressed the Spokane Valley City Council and expressed his disappointment over his perceived lack of attention to the matter.
“I addressed the council several months ago,” Creach said during the public comment portion of the council meeting. “This was a very significant event. I expected you all as a council would have reacted and did something.”
Creach and his supporters have made similar entreaties at recent state of the city addresses by Mayor Tom Towey throughout Spokane Valley.
Creach points to RCW 46.08.065, which he said specifies that all cars used for law-enforcement patrols must be marked.
However, Council Member Bill Gothmann said he read the ordinance and believes there are several exemptions that make it clear that the sheriff’s office is operating lawfully. The law goes on to say: “This section shall not apply to vehicles of a sheriff’s office, local police department or any vehicles used by local peace officers under public authority for special undercover or confidential investigative purposes.”
“Although I am not an attorney, I’ve read the RCW,” Gothmann said. “As far as I’m concerned, the use of unmarked cars is just not a legitimate issue. That’s my personal opinion.”
When making his statements to investigators after the shooting, Hirzel said he was in the neighborhood of 14200 E. Fourth on the night of Aug. 25 in response to a request from a neighbor to conduct a prowl check. After backing his unmarked car into the gravel lot of the Plant Farm, a nursery owned by Wayne Scott Creach, he began to work on his computer. Creach, awakened by the noise on his property, approached the car with a firearm in his hand.
Noting the pastor’s approach, Hirzel – who was in uniform -- said he identified himself as a police officer. After initially refusing commands to drop the gun, Creach is alleged to have backed up and put the gun in his waistband. When the pastor refused commands to drop to the ground, Hirzel is said to have struck Creach in the knee with a baton. Hirzel said he saw Creach then reach for the gun, and that’s when the officer fired a single shot to the chest, killing Creach at the scene.
In a review of the incident, county Chief Criminal Deputy Jack Driscoll noted that Hirzel was in full uniform. The unmarked car had push bars, a spotlight, numerous antennae, and a full complement of police equipment inside. Under the law, Hirzel was “in a place he was legally entitled to be” and the fact that the patrol car was not marked “is of no consequence to the use of force issue.”
“There is no indication that Hirzel acted with malice toward Mr. Creach. They had no prior history and did not know each other,” Driscoll wrote. “This appears to be a tragic situation where an officer, because he felt he was about to be shot, felt no other recourse but to use deadly force after Mr. Creach repeatedly failed to comply with the officer’s commands.”
Driscoll added that Hirzel cannot be held criminally liable for his use of force.
The incident has also been reviewed by the sheriff’s Deadly Force Review Board, which is composed of experts within the office. The board unanimously decided that Hirzel’s use of force was “reasonable based on policies of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office.”
A second review by the Spokane County Sheriff’s Citizens Advisory Board, constituted of 12 citizens, was called to see if the investigation was conducted properly. That group reported in March to Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich that the board “unanimously found that investigation was handled in an appropriate, professional and thorough manner” and was “well organized.”
“We felt that though this was a tragic incident, Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel acted in a reasonable manner based on our review,” the report states.
A final interval review of the investigation is underway, based on concerns and issues raised by the Creach family, stated Sgt. Dave Reagan, sheriff’s office spokesman. That inquiry is expected to be completed by the end of May.