Archive for July, 2013

Scott Creach part 1

Posted: July 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

I cannot think of a newsworthy incident that has occurred in the Valley so shocking and puzzling as the deadly gunplay between Southern Baptist preacher, Scott Creach, and Sheriff deputy Brian Hirzel, on a hot summer night nearly three years ago.
I first heard the news the next day, Thursday August 26th, on the radio as I drove up to a light on Appleway. I was not paying close attention to the news as I turned north onto University and so I distrusted what I thought I had heard.
How could it be true that Scott Creach, an elderly Valley man, had died at the hand of an officer of the law? I had known the man since 1965 when he brought his wife and three small kids up from Oklahoma, he was a young man of 29 and I was 7-year-old boy.
Even though I had seen him only occasionally since he left my family’s church at 8th and Pines to go preach at Greenacres Baptist Church six years later, Scott had ways of maintaining a presence in a lot of local lives. You might say he wove an interesting and colorful thread through the fabric of Spokane Valley life.
I remember he was running the building project when I worked on my dad’s crew putting in the foundation for the greenhouse he would be shot in front of forty years later. He would go on to build his fledgling plant growing operation into a thriving family enterprise, The Plant Farm, on his property at 4th and Rees .
He preached the last Southern Baptist service I ever sat through 15 years ago. It also happened to be the first one had I sat through in 15 years and I was there because he was baptizing my nephew, Trevor Clark, in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost just as he had done for hundreds of others during his 45 years as a preacher.
Far more often I heard his mini-sermons about growing plants that aired weekly for 30 years over the same station that was now broadcasting his bizarre demise. As soon as I got home and went online, I learned that I had heard right.
I waited four weeks before I wrote about what I thought of the affair. I wrote that I found it unbelievable that the officer involved went on a pre-planned vacation the day after the shooting. It would take nearly two weeks before we learned his version of what took place the night Scott died.
He died at 11:07 to be precise, a few hours after he and his wife, Imogene, got home from Wednesday night prayer meeting. A couple of minutes before 11:07 he heard a car pull onto his property. Through the years, The Plant Farm had endured its share of trespassing and thievery and Scott had always policed his own property.
So once again he got up out of bed to investigate. He put on his pants, grabbed his .45 handgun and a flashlight and then went outside, not bothering to put on a shirt. Imogene did not awaken until she heard him go out the door. She immediately glanced at the glowing clock by her bed and it read 11:06.
She got up and looked out the partially opened bedroom window but could see nothing and she heard nothing until she heard her husband shout something out. His voice was silenced by a gunshot. Other ear witnesses that night also heard the gunshot. Less than two minutes had transpired between when she awoke and the shot.
Eventually, Hirzel officially reported that while he was minding his own business filling out paper work on his unmarked cruiser’s computer, Scott approached him with his gun drawn. He said that he told Scott 20 times to put his gun down but Scott told him that he did not have to and instead put the gun in the waist of his pants behind his back and continued to approach.
He said he ordered Scott to drop down and when Scott refused he struck him on the side of the knee with his baton. Rather than comply, Scott went for the gun behind his back, even though it was later determined the chamber was empty.
Hirzel said he feared for his life when he saw Scott reach behind and begin to pull out his gun. He said he believed he had to shoot Scott before Scott shot him. That was it. That was the whole story. Everyone in power stood behind him, from the prosecutor to his boss, Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich, to the Spokane police department that conducted the investigation.
While I found parts of the story hard to swallow, I finally wrote my blog after it seemed we had been given the whole story, or as much as we were going to get for the time being. In addition to being maddened by the officer’s ill-timed vacation, I wrote that I felt the bottom line was that Scott put himself in harm’s way that night. His untimely death was ultimately his own fault for approaching an officer with a gun anywhere on his half-clad body.
I posted that blog at 5 in the afternoon and by 10 that night, Alan Creach, Scott’s vocal son and my old friend, posted a well written and thought-out comment. After I commented on his comment, he asked to meet him for coffee the next morning. We met instead met at Donna’s Diner in Veradale for lunch where he filled me in on his family’s side of the story.
He told me how his mother had hurriedly dialed 911 after she heard the shot. She then rushed out but was intercepted by one of the police officers that had begun arriving less than a minute after Hirzel’s call went out over the radio. She could see her husband lying in the cruiser’s spotlight on the ground as he looked toward her and feebly raised his hand.
The officer guided her behind one of the cars and out of view. She asked him if it was serious and the officer said it was very serious. When she asked if she should call their kids who lived nearby, he told her that she should. But when she asked to go to her husband’s side, he said she could not, even though at that moment Scott was still alive. He would take approximately 4 minutes to bleed to death from the gunshot wound in his chest.
Imogene later said that was the hardest part of the whole thing, to be held back as her life’s mate of 51 years died without her at his side.
Alan told me during our lunch how difficult the rest of the night was for him and his family as they stood nearby in utter shock and disbelief and despair as investigators went about their task of gathering evidence and recording the scene, the center of which was their father’s lifeless body, stiffening on the ground as his blood congealed beneath him.
Only Alan could share moments like when the fire department came by later and attempted to cleanse away the blood of the slain preacher with a fire hose. Alan said he had to get his tractor and re-grade the lot, working in the blood-stained gravel that had been blasted in every direction by the over-rambunctious stream of water.
Alan talked to me for more than an hour about his family’s ordeal and how he had learned about the way things really work. He was mad and he was frustrated. He felt that he and the community had been lied to repeatedly by the sheriff’s department and that he did not believe, as I had said in my blog, that his father was responsible for his own death.
He felt the official story was full of holes. While I found his side things very interesting and I sympathized with all of my heart, I chose to give the story more time to develop.
That was almost three years ago and I had not seen Alan again until we met recently for another marathon mid-day meal at Max at The Mirabeau. I wanted to hear his take on the family’s $2 million settlement. After the news went out on Friday, June 20th, I emailed Alan. He agreed to meet for lunch Monday.
I felt that Alan and his family and their investigator’s must have had a strong case. Their high-priced, successful lawyer surely was the kind that works only for a percentage of the settlement and so he had to believe they held a winning hand.
It also seemed to me that the insurance company, guided by their own high priced-council, must have concurred, considering how hard they fought in the recent Zehm vs. police lawsuit. It seemed obvious from the beginning of that trial that the family had a good case.
I did not agree with Knezovich’s assertion that the insurance company acted irresponsibly, sending the wrong message. He said people would perceive that Spokane County was easy to sue and ready to settle out of court. I think we already live in a sue-happy world in which everyone would sue the county if they could.
Not everyone, however, has a case that would convince nine out of twelve jurors to reasonably conclude that someone had done wrong and that there needed to be a multi-million dollar reckoning. The Creach family believed they had such a case, their lawyer felt they did and the insurance company did as well. After listening to Alan, it all seemed fairly reasonable to me as well.

Click here for part 2

Scott Creach part two

Posted: July 29, 2013 in Uncategorized

After he prayed over his meal and I took a picture mine, Alan once again took me into the surreal and eye-opening episode that has been a part of his family’s life since 11:07 p.m. on August, 25th, 2010.
Alan started with what he felt was one of the most interesting pieces of evidence. The autopsy, he said, showed that his father’s right thumb had fine speckles of blood in a directional pattern that was a part of the spray pattern that burst out from his chest as the bullet ripped into his body.
Alan maintained this proved that his father’s right hand was in front of him, not behind his back. Forensics from the spray pattern also showed the whereabouts and angle of the officer’s weapon which was just inches away from Scott’s chest pointing down at a 56-degree angle.
Alan told me the spray pattern hit Hirzel from the waist down, revealing that Scott was on his knees not standing up as they were told from the beginning. He said they were never told anything different than the bullet came at a slightly downward angle and toward left.
Another piece of evidence came from the reenactment that the sheriff’s department conducted a year later on a night chosen to have similar weather conditions as the night of the incident. Alan was there as they parked the same car in the same spot at the same time of night and then went through the whole episode just as the officer said it happened. Sherriff’s personnel acted out both parts.
What they did not tell the family was that they also had personnel positioned at the locations of the three people who heard the shot. A neighbor who was in their house with the sheriff’s personnel during the re-enactment later told the family that they all clearly heard the orders to drop the weapon. None of the ear-witnesses heard any orders on August 25, 2010, though they were as close as 225 feet away on a calm summer night.
I finally asked Alan as he was finishing up his salad and starting in on his bbq sirloin sandwich special, what he thought had happened. He certainly did have a theory that was very different from the official story.
He felt that his father probably recognized that it was an unmarked police car as he approached. If he ever had his gun out at all, he put the gun behind him in his pants long before he got close to the cruiser so that he would not appear armed and threatening.
Alan believes his dad startled Hirzel who then jumped out of his car and struck Scott with his baton. Scott immediately dropped to his knees and put both hands out front. Exactly why Hirzel pulled the trigger, Alan is not sure. He just feels positive that it was not because his dad was pulling out his gun to shoot the officer that stood menacingly above him with the gun pointed at his bare chest.
Whether it was a moment of panic, or accidental, or temporary insanity on Hirzel’s part, Alan believes strongly that his dad’s gun had nothing to do with anything. The fear the officer said he felt for his life came from being spooked by Scott.
Alan surmises that the officer could have been unaware his father had a gun until he fell face down , revealing the gun tucked into his waistband before rolling over onto his back. He theorizes that it is possible that Hirzel was assisted by the first police officers, helping him rig the scene by rolling Scott back over, undoing his belt to pull out the gun and then place it nearby off to the right.
That would explain why Imogene was led out of view as she approached. Furthermore, Alan said the witnesses who first began coming out of their homes to see what was going on said they had seen, as Imogene had seen, the officers doing something over Scott and it was not providing medical assistance.
I had to admit that Alan’s story had gotten more interesting through the years. It took away the hard-to-fathom suggestion that Scott would refuse to drop his weapon and continue to approach an officer who was authoritatively and repeatedly commanding him to do so. Scott had not had a traffic ticket in 30 years. He had always preached that the police were “God’s hand over you.”
I could also see Scott being irritated that this officer would trespass in a dark, unmarked cruiser and then sit there like he owned the place. I can see Scott approaching and not saying a word until he was close and then maybe saying gruffly something like, “What’s going on here?” and detonating a situation that never crossed his mind would occur in the next second or two.
But I also knew that Alan’s theory was based on evidence and allegations that any opposing attorney would turn and twist to discredit the family’s version and support the police officer’s. I had heard Knezovich complain bitterly about the case not going to trial. His department and their attorneys felt the evidence supported the officer’s story and would vindicate them of any wrongdoing.
I can see that neither side could prove beyond all doubt that their version of the episode is true, but I also see that the Creach family did not have to in order to win a settlement in civil court. Laws were broken and property rights were violated by Hirzel. Had the officer not done so, Scott Creach would still be alive. I think insurance companies and jurors pay a lot of attention to things like that.
It does not matter if our law enforcement agencies have decided not to acknowledge or obey or enforce a law, it is still a law. Cruising in an unmarked car in a residential area is breaking Washington state law RCW 46.08.065. Pulling onto a person’s private property and setting up office, was a violation of Scott Creach’s property rights.
You take those actions away from the night of August 25th and you got Scott Creach waking up the next morning to live another day. It kind of seems like the Sheriff’s office just got a $2 million ticket for all those times they did not write themselves any tickets for breaking the law over and over as a matter of routine.
What Hirzel did that night happens all the time. That is why I stick with my stance in my original blog and respectfully hold Scott accountable for approaching a cop car, gun drawn or not, in the middle of the night. Either Scott did as Alan maintains and walked up to the officer peacefully or he walked up there as Hirzel maintains, defiant and deadly. Either way, Scott approached.
I would go one step further and say that even if Alan’s theory were correct, Hirzel still was not guilty of any crime when it came to shooting Scott. He mistakenly identified Scott to be the bad guy, but that can happen late at night out in the field. He made a mistake like everyone does, and while we often get away with ours, his was tragic.
As to whether or not there was any kind of a cover up, I would like to hope not. I always thought, however, that the delay in getting out Hirzel’s version looked badly at the very least. It got fishier when Alan told me that their detectives discovered that he did not leave town to go to Montana to visit family the day after the shooting as we were told. They talked to witnesses who said he was in town until he left for Vegas a few days later.
Alan’s theory is that they were buying time to see if there were any eyewitnesses. I hope that Alan’s theory is wrong and I tend to have more trust in our local law enforcement officers than to believe he is entirely right. I do, however, think Hirzel should have had his blood tested immediately just like Scott’s blood was tested and that he should have given his full story before going on vacation, just like the rest of us would have had to.
I have picked up through this episode that the sheriff’s department feels they can do what they want. If they need to prowl in an unmarked car, so be it. If they need to park and do bookwork on private property, so be it. If they want to let an officer who just shot an elderly citizen go on vacation, so be it. I agree that they have a very difficult and complicated task trying to make our community a safe place to live and they need leeway to get the job done.
But when they break laws and violate rights and a God-fearing, law-abiding citizen dies as a consequence, I believe they should own up to any missteps, correct the problems and move on. No one can learn from those highly effective educators, known as our mistakes, if we don’t first admit we made them.
It appears that is what the Sheriff’s department has failed to do. Alan said his mom would have accepted the County’s second offer of $1 million (the first was $250,000) if the county agreed to attach an apology to it. Rather than apologize, the County preferred instead to offer $2 million with a threat attached to go after the family for legal expenses if they were not awarded at least $1.7 million by a jury.
Alan said that made going to trial too big of a gamble. He said they were disappointed, not because of the amount of the settlement but because they wanted the community to hear what they had learned. He wants things to change so no one else in Spokane Valley dies like his father died.
I agreed that people should hear their side and so I had to write one more blog before putting the whole troubling affair behind me and moving on. I pray for God to give the Creach family the strength to do their best to do the same as they live out their lives, carrying Scott heavily in their hearts until that day he always preached about when they meet up before “the great judge of all the Earth” who can make the final call on this tragic affair.
Until then, I think people need learn what Scott learned too late. We cannot wait until the police do everything just right, people need to realize that all police officers need to be approached and handled with caution. They have a dangerous job and they are trained to be dangerous and the wrong move can be deadly.

creaches

To read a tribute blog I wrote a fews days after the shooting click here.
To read original blog, click here.

One money-making liddle fiddler

As we approached this little guy in the park downtown on the 4th of July, I thought how cute and unusual to see such a young sidewalk performer.
After watching him for a few minutes, I also began to think how shrewd of his parents. I have never seen such a steady stream of dollar droppers. We were trying to figure out who his parents were as we looked around the crowd that had gathered.
After a while we spotted them. When the crowd thinned, his dad gestured for him to stuff his pockets with some of the money piling up in his case.
I had been thinking the same thing as I watched person after person flipping him dollar bills. Better to look young and hungry than young and raking in the dough.