A federal judge has ruled that a civil case, filed by the family, can move forward in the fatal shooting of 74-year-old Pastor Wayne Scott Creach in August 2010.
Family members are seeking $14.7 million in damages from Spokane County and sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel for violating Creach’s civil rights and wrongful death.
U.S. District Court Judge Rosanna M. Peterson rejected a motion for summary judgment by Hirzel and his attorneys, who were looking to have the lawsuit dismissed. Hirzel’s lawyers contend he is covered by a doctrine of qualified immunity, which protects officers in the line of duty.
However, the judge said the Creach family presented plenty of evidence for the case to move forward.
“Deputy Hirzel contends that the plaintiffs have not show that he violated a clearly established right,” Peterson wrote in her order denying summary judgment Feb. 4.
“Deputy Hirzel contends that the plaintiffs have not shown that he violated a clearly established right,” Peterson wrote in her order denying summary judgment Feb. 4. “The problem with (that) argument is that the court simply does not know what the facts are…there exist genuine issues of material fact casting doubt on key components of Deputy Hirzel’s version of events.”
Hirzel shot Creach on his Plant Farm property, 14208 E. Fourth Ave., after the pastor approached the deputy while the officer was parked in the plant nursery parking lot. Hirzel was on duty and conducting a prowl check, but was in an unmarked patrol car and did not alert Creach or request permission.
Creach got out of bed, put on a pair of pants and slippers and armed himself with a handgun.
What happened next is what is unclear: According to documents, both Hirzel and the plaintiffs agree that the officer exited his vehicle and fired a single fatal shot into Creach’s chest.
While making statements to investigators after the shooting, Hirzel said he backed his car into the gravel lot. After noting the pastor’s approach, the uniformed officer said he identified himself. Creach initially refused commands to drop the gun but eventually relented and tucked the weapon in his waistband.
Hirzel then said he commanded Creach to drop to the ground. After he refused, Hirzel said he struck the pastor in the knee with a baton. That’s when Creach is alleged to have reached for his gun, and Hirzel fired his weapon.
Review panels backed up Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker declared in January 2011: that Hirzel acted in a “reasonable and justified manner” by using deadly force.
But according to the court document released last week, forensic evidence indicates that Creach may have not been standing upright and face-to-face with Hirzel when he was shot and that the bullet entered his chest from left to right at a downward angle. It also doesn’t prove that Creach was reaching behind his back at the time he was shot, as bloodstains were found on his left and right hands, indicating they were in front of him. There also were no bloodstains found on Creach’s gun.
Creach’s wife, Imogene, who was awakened during the incident, said she only heard a single exclamation before the gunshot and no verbal commands from Hirzel.
“While the fact that nobody heard the commands or Mr. Creach’s responses does not necessarily mean that Deputy Hirzel’s recitation of the facts is inaccurate or untrue, the record creates genuine issues of material fact that the jury must decide,” Peterson wrote.