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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

County OKs settlement in Creach death

Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday voted to approve a $2 million settlement with the family of Wayne Scott Creach, a Spokane Valley nursery owner and pastor shot to death in 2010 in a confrontation with a sheriff’s deputy.

Commissioners Todd Mielke and Shelly O’Quinn approved the settlement without comment.

Mielke said he wishes that the county and sheriff’s office had taken the case to court.

But the county’s insurer, the Washington Counties Risk Pool, wanted to settle to avoid the risk of a higher award at trial. The original suit sought $14.7 million in damages.

The county pays the first $500,000 of the award, with the rest of the money coming from a third-party insurer for the risk pool. That company wanted to settle because it had sustained a large loss in a similar case recently, county officials said.

“We think it sends a bad message,” Mielke said Tuesday.

He said the risk pool made its settlement offer June 18 and it was good for three days. On the morning of the third day, a U.S. District Court judge in Spokane dismissed the county and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich as defendants.

That left Deputy Brian Hirzel, who fired the fatal shot, as the last defendant in the family’s civil rights and wrongful death lawsuit.

Mielke said the county had already agreed to indemnify Hirzel, so even after the judge’s dismissals in favor of the county and sheriff, the county and its risk pool were still on the hook in the claim.

Mielke also noted the family agreed to the settlement just after the dismissals by the judge and just before the settlement offer was about to expire June 21.

Creach family members previously said they wanted a trial to air the issue of use of force by law enforcement.

Creach family members were not immediately available for comment.

The shooting occurred in the parking lot of the Creach family business, The Plant Farm, 14208 E. Fourth Ave., where Creach and his wife lived in an adjacent home.

Creach had gotten up during the night and armed himself with a handgun to investigate a vehicle parked at his business, where thieves had been a problem throughout the years.

In the confrontation, Hirzel fired a single shot into Creach’s chest. An investigation turned up contradictory evidence and statements by Hirzel, the family’s lawyers said.

Hirzel was cleared by county prosecutors following the official shooting investigation.