Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel acted “in a reasonable manner” when he fatally shot a 74-year-old pastor last summer in Spokane Valley, two departmental reviews have concluded.
“Deputy Brian Hirzel’s use of force in this incident was reasonable based on policies of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office,” the department said, citing its Deadly Force Review Board’s conclusions.
Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich also had his department’s 12-member Citizen Advisory Board review the Aug. 25 shooting of pastor Wayne Scott Creach. That board essentially came to the same conclusion, according to Sgt. Dave Reagan, the department’s spokesman.
The board wrote to Knezovich on April 11, “We felt that though this was a tragic incident, Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Hirzel acted in a reasonable manner based on our review of the case files,” Reagan said in a news release.
The pastor’s son, Alan Creach, questioned the timing of the release, noting it came a day after he requested that the Spokane Valley City Council bar Knezovich from using unmarked patrol vehicles in city limits. Spokane Valley contracts with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
“That’s like a slap in the face. I guess they think they can roll their unmarked cars onto private property and blow somebody away and get away with it,” Creach said. “It’s not surprising, but disappointing.”
Creach said he wanted to know the identity of the citizens on the advisory board. Reagan noted that the board posed “specific questions and concerns” to the Sheriff’s Office after reviewing case files for two weeks; Creach would like to know what those questions were.
Reagan didn’t return messages seeking comment Wednesday afternoon.
The shooting occurred after Hirzel parked his unmarked patrol vehicle in the parking lot of Creach’s nursery, The Plant Farm, at 14208 E. Fourth Ave.
The elder Creach, who lived alongside the nursery, armed himself with a .45 caliber pistol – as he previously had done several times during suspicious circumstances on his property – and approached the vehicle.
Hirzel told investigators that he repeatedly ordered Creach to drop the gun, but investigators could find no neighbors who heard any of that exchange. Only Creach’s wife, Imogene, reported hearing anything, and she described what sounded like her husband yelling out in fear before the shot was fired.
Hirzel said Creach initially responded that he didn’t have to drop his gun, and mentioned that he had had problems with theft in the past. But Creach eventually put the gun in the back waistband of his pants.
Hirzel then ordered Creach onto the ground, but Creach refused. Hirzel couldn’t remember exactly when he called for backup but said he struck Creach on the outside of the left knee with a police baton. Then, Hirzel said, Creach reached for his gun.
“When, when I saw his hand go behind his back and come out with a gun, or the grip of the gun that I saw, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind that he was going to shoot me,” Hirzel told investigators, according to transcripts.
Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker declined to charge Hirzel criminally after his chief deputy’s analysis showed that Hirzel did not act with malice toward Creach, which would be required under state law for an officer to be held criminally responsible for a shooting.
Reagan added in his news release that a further review based on concerns raised by the Creach family is continuing and should be completed sometime next month.
But Alan Creach said it’s not enough.
“I just think this is one more instance of a government that has gone awry through their willingness to overlook an action that is unjustifiable,” Creach said. “If we let this event stand, then the beating and the killing will continue.”