The deputy who fatally shot a Spokane Valley pastor last week has been unavailable for interviews with detectives probing the tragic shooting death because he was allowed to leave town for a scheduled weeklong vacation instead.
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich made no apologies for allowing the deputy, Brian Hirzel, to take his pre-approved vacation before having to answer questions about the shooting death of 74-year-old pastor and businessman Wayne Scott Creach.
“Deputy Hirzel, that night, agreed to be interviewed,” Knezovich said today, noting that the deputy has the same right to remain silent as anyone else but is willing to waive that. “His only request was that it wait” until he return from his already approved vacation.
Had the sheriff required Hirzel to cancel his travel plans, it could have been seen as coercion, Knezovich said.
“We have to make sure this is a clean interview. We have to make sure this is a clean investigation,” he said. “If I do anything coercive in reference to this investigation, it can taint the case.”
At a press conference this afternoon, Knezovich also said that Hirzel radioed for medical assistance.
At 11:07 p.m., Hirzel radioed “shots fired, need medics,” Knezovich said. “Those were the first words out of his mouth.”
Medics were on scene within six minutes, he said.
The new details about the delay in interviewing Hirzel began emerging late Tuesday, when Creach’s family members said they’d been told by investigators that Hirzel was allowed by Knezovich to proceed with his vacation plans rather than meet with investigators as soon as possible.
The family has been increasingly critical of the amount of time that has been allowed to lapse between the shooting last Wednesday night, when Creach armed himself with a pistol and went to check on what he thought was a prowler on his property at 14208 E. 4th Ave., and the first formal interview of Hirzel, the officer who pulled the trigger.
Hirzel had pulled his unmarked patrol car into the Creach family’s nursery and greenhouse complex about 11 p.m. following a request from a neighbor earlier in the day for extra patrols because of increased vandalism and vehicle prowls in the area.
Alan Creach, the pastor’s son, said in an e-mail to The Spokesman-Review that the lead Spokane Police detective informed him about Hirzel’s vacation plans.
“According to the lead detective SPD, deputy (Hirzel) has not been” available because he left on a scheduled vacation the day after the shooting that was “cleared by Ozzie,” Creach wrote.
Knezovich said earlier this week that Hirzel has a constitutional right to not give detectives an interview about the shooting. Knezovich did not mention anything earlier this week about Hirzel’s vacation.