The investigation into last month’s police shooting of a Spokane Valley pastor and businessman has been completed and turned over to county prosecutors for review, authorities said today.
Investigators have made no recommendation about whether they feel the shooting of Pastor Wayne Scott Creach on his own property by Spokane County sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel was justified or whether criminal charges should be considered.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has said he’ll review the investigation and make that decision.
The tragedy has sparked intense community debate over police procedures and the responsibility of lawfully armed property owners to comply with police demands when confronted on their own property. It was unclear why investigators decided against including any recommendation with the report sent to prosecutors.
Hirzel, who was uniformed but in an unmarked patrol car in Creach’s nursery parking lot after 11 p.m. Aug. 25, shot the pastor in the chest after a brief confrontation.
The deputy, who was assigned to the Spokane Valley Police Department, had been dispatched to the neighborhood to watch for vandals and thieves after a resident and neighbor of the Creach family had requested extra patrols in the area. Family members have said that Creach, who lived in a house alongside his commercial nursery and greenhouse complex, believed there was a prowler on his property and went to investigate.
Detectives have said Hirzel told them he saw a shirtless Creach approaching from about 30 feet away with a gun in his hand. Hirzel reportedly ordered Creach to drop his weapon and the pastor refused, putting the pistol in the waistband of his pants behind his back instead. Hirzel said Creach also refused orders to get on the ground, prompting Hirzel to strike the 74-year-old man with a police baton, causing him to crumple. Hirzel said he fired when Creach reached for his weapon and he could see the butt of the pistol.
Meanwhile, the reports include numerous new details, including indications that Hirzel may have been involved in a fatal confrontation while serving as a law enforcement officer years earlier in Cathedral City, Calif., which is near Palm Springs.
A Spokane-area detective is following up on reports that Hirzel had placed a “lateral vasuclar neck restraint” on a subject in Cathedral City and that the restrained individual later died.
A California police lieutenant told Spokane detectives that the death was investigated at the time at that prosecutors declined to file any charges against Herzel.
Cathedral City authorities last week denied The Spokesman-Review’s request for records related to Hirzel’s service as a law enforcement officer there.
On the night of the Spokane Valley shooting, Hirzel had started his shift in a marked patrol car but switched to an unmarked car about two hours before heading to the Plant Farm, which is where the fatal encounter occurred.
After shooting Creach, Hirzel was still in the firing position when the first backup officer arrived.
“Hirzel began telling me that we needed to treat Creach for his gunshot wound,” Deputy Mark Speer wrote in the narrative portion of the report he filed on the incident. “He then said, ‘Who the f-ck is this guy?’”
Another deputy, Todd Miller, rolled onto the scene and put on gloves to begin administering first aid, noting that Creach still had a pulse when he first checked. “I tilted Wayne’s head back to attempt to open an airway and checked for breathing,” Miller wrote in his report. “I did not see that Wayne was breathing.”
By that time, a Washington State Patrol trooper had arrived and also was checking for a pulse but was unable to detect one. Medics arrived moments later and law enforcement officers let them take over.
Creach was pronounced dead at 11:27 p.m. by a doctor at Valley Medical Center who was on the telephone with medics at the scene.
Interestingly, the first backup deputy to arrive after the shooting, Speer, is the same deputy who responded to the nursery in 2008 when Creach had apprehended a suspected plant thief at gunpoint and held him until police arrived.
Speer noted in his report on the Hirzel shooting that he had counseled Creach back in 2008 to avoid taking matters into his own hands with a loaded gun and call police instead.
“Creach disagreed with me and stated that he would defend his property and had the right to bear arms any time he wanted,” Speer wrote. “Creach was polite about his convictions but would not listen to my advice about confronting suspects.”