No one has lost more from the August shooting that killed a Spokane Valley pastor than Imogene Creach.
The widow of 74-year-old Wayne Scott Creach stood among family members Wednesday as they implored Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich to prohibit the parking of unmarked patrol cars on private property.
“It’s been difficult,” said Creach, who was married to Scott Creach for 54 years. “The one thing I am truly sorry for was that I was not permitted to be with my husband during his dying moments. I felt I should have been there holding his hand while others stood around and watched him bleed out.”
She noted that she and her husband, the founder of Greenacres Baptist Church, were “pro-police” before the encounter on Aug. 25 when Creach armed himself before walking out to investigate what he thought was a prowler but was instead Deputy Brian Hirzel in an unmarked patrol car.
“They have been given the responsibility and they need to discharge that responsibility with humility and fairness,” she said in her first substantive public comments since the shooting. “We have always considered law enforcement as a resource. It has been disappointing … to have everything controlled and switched around to help a brother in law enforcement. So many people have said: ‘When I saw a police car I had a sense of security. But now when I see one I just want to duck.’ I think that’s sad.”
Meanwhile, an obviously frustrated Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said Wednesday that he has done everything he can think of to add transparency to the investigation of the fatal shooting.
He brought in a member of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s ethics board to sit in on the review by the department’s Citizen Advisory Board. He asked Spokane Police Ombudsman Tim Burns to sit in while investigators answered all the board’s questions before they determined that Hirzel’s actions that night were reasonable.
“Everyone wants to look at the actions of the deputy,” Knezovich said. “As soon as Scott knew (Hirzel) was a deputy, the car became irrelevant.”
But Alan Creach, son of the slain pastor, said the whole incident would have been avoided if Hirzel had not parked the unmarked patrol vehicle on private property. He pushed for a bill presented last week by state Reps. Matt Shea and Larry Crouse, both Republicans from Spokane Valley, prohibiting law enforcement from parking unmarked cars on private property for routine matters.
“This incident is going to occur again,” Alan Creach said. “We are asking the sheriff to mark the unmarked cars. That’s not unreasonable. That’s state law.”
However, Knezovich argues that he can use unmarked cars under the law that exempts police departments and sheriff’s offices “or any vehicles used by local peace officers under public authority for special undercover or confidential investigative purposes.”
Alan Creach said his own reading of the same law makes it appear that unmarked cars can only be used for those limited purposes.
Asked if his deputies can do their job using only marked cars, Knezovich replied: “I suppose you can do any job with the tools given. But the real question is how effective are you going to be?”
The continuing disagreement between the Creach family and Knezovich includes accusations that Knezovich has not been truthful and that the family can’t get all the investigative information it has requested. Knezovich said Wednesday that the family has made records requests that are so ambiguous it’s been difficult for his department to comply.
Knezovich pointed out that Alan Creach said in an interview in October that his private investigator found gunshot residue inside Hirzel’s patrol car when the actual report from the investigator found no such residue.
“As soon as the (internal investigation) is done, I intend on getting everything out to everyone,” Knezovich said.
For their part, Alan Creach said his family has spent “a tremendous amount” on experts and have hired local attorney Richard Wall to coordinate their efforts. But, they have not said whether that process will end with a civil lawsuit against Spokane County. “That’s the last resort,” he said.
Alan Creach said he doesn’t understand why Knezovich would oppose legislation limiting the use of unmarked cars. For his own part, the family has installed a steel-pole and chain fence around the parking lot of The Plant Farm, at 14208 E. Fourth Ave., to keep unwanted vehicles out at night.
“The reaction from the sheriff has eroded the public’s trust and faith in law enforcement,” Alan Creach said. “All he needs to do is acknowledge the mistake, make changes and move on.”