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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Clark: Creach dispute should have been settled in court

Sometimes what passes for justice around here is just nuts.

The recent settlement in the shooting death of a Spokane Valley pastor does nothing to invalidate my thesis.

On Friday the county’s insurance carrier gave two million bucks to the family of the Rev. Wayne Scott Creach.

In exchange, the family agreed to drop its civil lawsuit against the cop who pulled the trigger, Deputy Brian Hirzel.

(A federal judge earlier had dismissed Spokane County and Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich from the suit.)

Now, it’s my sincerest hope that this settlement will help heal the anguish, grief and outrage that the Creach family has endured since Hirzel’s gunshot broke the quiet of night on Aug. 25, 2010.

But what actually happened at Creach’s Plant Farm?

That’s always been as murky as a swamp.

So count me on the sheriff’s side on this one.

Knezovich, in news reports, blasted the county’s insurance carrier for caving in and not taking this case to trial.

Ozzie’s right.

This payoff is a chicken’s move.

Sure, maybe $2 million is chump change to a big insurance company.

But it’s still a whole lot of dough to most folks I know.

If we’re going to shell out millions, let’s spend them going after the truth.

I can’t think about this settlement without making comparisons to Otto Zehm, a case that was clear as gin.

Zehm died in 2006 after being bashed to a pulp and Tasered by a rabid Spokane cop and then suffocated by a plastic mask that was put over his face but not hooked to an oxygen tank.

For that the city gave Zehm’s mom $1.67 million, an apology and a plaque with her son’s name on it in a park.

But justice only came after six long and excruciating years of deceit, cover-up, prosecutorial cowardice and drawn-out litigation.

The day was saved thanks to a federal trial and a brave jury that sent the aforementioned disgrace to his badge – Karl Thompson Jr. – to prison, where he still resides.

Unlike Zehm’s fate, no cameras were there to capture what happened to Creach.

The only living witness, alas, is Hirzel, the guy who fired the fatal shot.

Some things are not in dispute.

We know, for example, that Hirzel was in uniform and parked in an unmarked patrol car on Plant Farm property. (He was looking for prowlers, he says, when a figure carrying a handgun approached him.)

We also know that Creach heard a suspicious noise and went out armed.

And we know that Hirzel shot Creach in the chest once, which was enough.

All those details in between, well …

You might as well call a psychic hotline.

The law, however, is straightforward when it comes to the subject of deadly force.

Police officers can use it if they are afraid for their lives.

That’s Hirzel’s story, and he’s sticking to it.

Which is why it was so important to see this mystery played out in the confines of a court.

Now it won’t happen. And that sends out a troubling message, Knezovich said. “It says, ‘If you sue the county, they’ll pay.’ ”

Ozzie, you won’t hear any disagreement from me.

Street music postscript …

If you read my column last Sunday you know the 11th annual Spokane Street Music Week ended on an all-time high note with over $17,000 collected for Second Harvest food bank.

But then it got even sweeter.

After getting a cashier’s check from my favorite teller at Washington Trust bank, I made an appointment to present that and all the other checks to food bank officials.

When I arrived at Second Harvest, however, I was told that a philanthropist had come in earlier.

He left a $5,000 food bank donation on behalf of Street Music Week, which puts musicians and entertainers on the sidewalks of downtown and now the Garland district.

I stood flummoxed in the Second Harvest foyer as the numbers began to register.

Last year’s event – the 10th annual – raised a record $12,000 in donations.

That amount has now been bested by a full 10 grand.

Our last official total stands at $22,462.65.

Thanks once again to each and every one of you who made 2013 a year to remember.

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