Police detail Hirzel account of shooting that killed pastor
Deputy says he ordered Creach to drop gun; son calls it murder
Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel said he ordered pastor Wayne Scott Creach to drop his gun multiple times, struck the 74-year-old man in the leg with a police baton and fired only after the property owner began to draw the gun out of his waistband, an investigator said Tuesday in the first detailed account of the Aug. 25 incident that resulted in Creach’s death.
At no time did Creach aim his weapon at Hirzel, according to Spokane Police Lt. Dave McGovern, who supervises the detectives who investigate major crimes.
The autopsy following the shooting showed no corresponding mark on Creach’s leg from a baton strike, McGovern said.
“But then again, that doesn’t mean that he wasn’t struck,” the police lieutenant said. “It’s just that there were no marks of it.” Further forensic testing will be done to determine if there are marks on Creach’s trousers or fibers on the baton.
“That’s why we will take the statement piece by piece by piece and go through it,” McGovern said. “That’s going to take us some time.”
Also Tuesday, Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick made her first public comments about the “tragic event” her department has taken the lead role in investigating. Kirkpatrick said she hopes the case will be handed over to the Spokane County prosecutor’s office by early next week.
She said she met with the Creach family earlier in the day to tell them what detectives have learned in the investigation and “to extend personal condolences on behalf of the law enforcement community.”
Alan Creach, son of the slain Southern Baptist pastor, said Tuesday that his father was killed defending his freedom.
“My dad didn’t understand what that deputy was doing out there. Obviously he had questions. I don’t believe it’s written in the Constitution that when a deputy approaches you have to put your gun down. I think the law of the land is going to have to rule here,” he said. “I’m not a lawyer but it really bothered me incredibly to hear how my father was murdered.”
At the briefing Tuesday, McGovern said Hirzel, a 41-year-old deputy with about 18 years of law enforcement experience, parked just after 11 p.m. on Aug. 25 at Creach’s Spokane Valley nursery business at the request of a neighbor who called for officers to check on prowling activity in the area.
Hirzel told investigators that he didn’t know the business owner lived next door to the Plant Farm, at 14208 E. Fourth Ave., and he had no prior knowledge of numerous police contacts with Creach, who – according to the family – frequently armed himself with a handgun and had apprehended several trespassers.
Hirzel, a deputy assigned to work for the Spokane Valley Police Department, was parked in the business’s parking lot in his unmarked Ford Crown Victoria with the driver’s side window down. He was typing up tickets on his dashboard-mounted computer when he noticed a light to his left.
“He looked over and saw a male, no shirt on, pants, approaching his car, and he was about 30 feet away,” McGovern said, describing Creach. “He had a gun in his hand. It was down at his side.”
Creach got within a couple feet of the car. “The deputy, as (Creach) was approaching, didn’t feel like he had enough time to get out of the car, so he drew his weapon and pointed it out the driver’s side window at Mr. Creach.”
Hirzel told investigators during the two-hour videotaped interview that he told Creach four to six times that he was an officer and that Creach needed to “drop the weapon.”
“Mr. Creach answered a few times, saying he didn’t have to,” McGovern said. “At one point he said … ‘people have stolen from me before.’ We asked (Hirzel) if that clued him into that he was a property owner. (Hirzel) said no, it didn’t. He remembers the statement being made, but it did not clue him in that he was a property owner.”
By then, Creach was next to the unmarked patrol car. Hirzel “ordered him to get back from the car. Mr. Creach took a couple steps back,” McGovern said.
Hirzel then made a radio call for other officers to assist him and got out of the car while continuing to keep his service pistol aimed at Creach.
“While Mr. Creach was backing up, he put his gun in the waistband of his trousers” behind his back, McGovern said. “The deputy was ordering Mr. Creach down to the ground. Mr. Creach said, ‘I don’t have to go down on the ground. I’m not going down on the ground.’ ”
At that point, Hirzel took his police baton and “struck Mr. Creach once in the knee area. The deputy said that caused Mr. Creach to buckle and at the same point, he reached back with his right hand and started to draw out his gun.”
Hirzel holstered his baton, grabbed his pistol with both hands and fired once, killing Creach.
Hirzel said as Creach “brought the gun up and he could see the butt of the gun when he fired the shot,” McGovern said. Creach “was drawing the gun out his back waistband.”
Alan Creach said the light Hirzel saw when he spotted the pastor was his dad’s flashlight, which was not mentioned by McGovern or other law enforcement officials.
“We haven’t heard one word about his flashlight,” Alan Creach said. “As dad was coming across the parking lot, he had a flashlight in his hand and a gun. They were the two tools he always took.”
Creach “blinked it at (Hirzel),” said Alan Creach. It’s his belief that his father used the flashlight to communicate with Hirzel, possibly to let him know that he was going to approach the car.
Hirzel’s statement doesn’t fit with what Imogene Creach heard from her open bedroom window, according to her family. She and her husband had a prearranged procedure in which she would listen and call 911 if she heard her husband call for help.
“His testimony truly does not match up to what my mother heard. She could clearly hear my father, who was facing away from her,” Alan Creach said. Hirzel “was facing toward her, and she didn’t hear anything he reportedly said.”
Alan Creach noted that Hirzel several times talked about how Scott Creach complied with his commands.
Scott Creach complied “by stepping back. He put the gun in his waistband behind his back. Everything else is Hirzel’s account,” he said. “Perhaps in anger or fear, I think he reacted poorly. It’s clear he didn’t exercise good judgment. I have confidence that Deputy Hirzel will be charged with a crime. Anything else, I don’t think it’s reasonable.”
Kirkpatrick pointed out that Hirzel’s statement is “what he says happened. It raises new questions,” she said. “Now we have to go back and do more investigation. You just can’t close this because he gave a statement. Now we have to go do the leg work and the forensics of that.”
Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich was asked how residents who arm themselves to investigate situations on their own property should react when they encounter a police officer or deputy.
“With great rights come great responsibilities,” he said. “We have to ensure that if a law enforcement officer is there for a lawful purpose and they are confronted with an armed subject, just make sure that we don’t escalate that situation. If that means putting the gun down until the officer knows who you are, that is a reasonable expectation.”
Alan Creach said he views those rights differently.
“The sheriff brought up Hirzel’s Fifth Amendment rights. That same document that allows (Hirzel) to keep his mouth shut also gave my father the right to approach that car with a firearm in a safe condition and not be killed,” Creach said. “You can spin it any which way. I look at it as murder.”