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This column reflects the opinion of the writer. To learn about the differences between a news story and an opinion column, click here.

Opinion >  Column

Doug Clark: Baton story fails to clear cop’s conduct

Santa Claus. The Tooth Fairy. The Easter Bunny …

The Keebler Elves.

Open wide, compadres. We have a brand new myth to swallow.

It’s called…

“The Phantom Baton Blow.”

Believing in magic is about the best way to make sense out of what Deputy Brian Hirzel says happened the night Wayne Scott Creach was fatally shot Aug. 25 in Spokane Valley.

Hirzel says he struck Creach with his police baton. We’re told the blow was delivered in a knee area and hard enough so that the minister actually buckled.

Yet we are also told that the autopsy showed no corresponding bruise on Creach.


“But then again, that doesn’t mean he wasn’t struck,” said Spokane police Lt. Dave McGovern, who supervises major crimes detectives, in our Wednesday news story. “It’s just that there were no marks of it.”

Are you kidding me?

Come on. Creach was a 74-year-old man. People that age can get a bruise putting on their socks.

I’m not being sarcastic, either.

Getting older truly sucks. I’m 59 and I actually threw my jaw out just eating dinner the other day.

My point is that if Hirzel struck Creach as he claimed, shouldn’t it be obvious apart from some CSI search for trouser indentations or microfibers that managed to somehow adhere to the cop club?

No telltale sign of the blow naturally makes me wonder about the rest of Hirzel’s tale.

Is he telling the truth?

Or are we all being led down another rabbit hole again?

I’m sorry to always be the skeptic. I truly believe in good law enforcement.

Likewise, I believe that the vast majority of our officers went into police work not to bust heads, but to do right.

The last thing this community needs is another protracted yahoo cop scandal a la Otto Zehm or Shonto Pete.

But here’s the thing.

With every new revelation that emerges from this horribly sad story, the louder my BS alarm is going off.


I’m not alone, either. People started boiling on this the moment they heard that Hirzel was off vacationing in Vegas instead of explaining to investigators why his confrontation with Creach ended in bloodshed and death.

It’s not lost on me that Creach went out into the night packing a handgun. This is often a recipe for disaster.

But Hirzel is the professional. Pulling a trigger is the absolute last resort.

Was there a way for Hirzel to de-escalate the situation?

That’s the money question we all want answered.

And now Spokane police Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has weighed in with the most unsettling news of all.

According to our Wednesday story, the chief “hopes the case will be handed over to the Spokane County prosecutor’s office by early next week.”

Giving a cop case to the Spokane County prosecutor’s office is like tossing an asteroid into a black hole.

I hate to say it. I hope I’m wrong. But four little words keep popping into my mind.

Here we go again.

Doug Clark is a columnist for The Spokesman-Review. He can be reached at (509) 459-5432 or by e-mail at

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