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Before Wayne Scott Creach went to check on a suspicious car in his dark parking lot, before he confronted the sheriff’s deputy sitting inside, before he lay dying on dusty gravel, the 74-year-old was simply a man of faith who worked hard and tried to protect his own property.
For decades, he built up the family nursery, the Plant Farm, on 26 acres in the Valley, and when he heard suspicious noises and saw people around the greenhouses at night, he’d do some checking on his own, rather than bother the authorities for nothing, says his wife, Imogene, speaking publicly for the first time.
The night of Aug. 25, when Creach saw a car backed up near the greenhouse, as thieves had done before, “he did what he has done for the last 35 years,” Imogene says. “He put on his pants and his house slippers and grabbed his gun and went out to see what was going on.”
Moments after her husband went to investigate, Imogene (pronounced EYE-ma-gene) says she heard voices that sounded surprised or alarmed. Then shots.
She ran outside, but she was intercepted by officers and led back in the house, never able to say goodbye.
“I think Dad was still alive at that point,” Creach’s son, Ernie, says. “When she said, ‘Hey! That’s my husband out there,’ she saw his arm come up.”
Creach’s death at the hands of law enforcement was the first in a series of high-profile police shootings in the last four months. In all, cops have shot six people, four of them fatally, since August. County Prosecutor Steve Tucker has not ruled yet on any of the shootings, adding to the speculation about rising violence since four Lakewood, Wash., officers were killed in a coffee-shop ambush last November.
“I really think the number of shootings you’re seeing right now is a direct reflection of the tension and stress that our society is under right now,” Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich says. “There’s a tension out there, a nervousness. ‘Is my job going to be around? What’s the future for my kids?’ All those are tangible.”
The number of shootings is still small when compared to the tens of thousands of calls local agencies answer each year, but Knezovich, for one, sees reason enough to be concerned: Since 2004, his deputies have shot 10 people, compared to seven in the previous 13 years. A similar, slight-upward trend has occurred with Spokane Police officers, too, though older records of both agencies are imperfect.
To better understand the issue — and to offer little-heard perspectives — we interviewed dozens of people: the elderly mother left to mourn her son, the sister who tried to get her mentally ill brother help, and the cop who knows from first-hand experience what it means to kill someone.
From the perspective of Imogene Creach, the deputy, Brian Hirzel, had no business being on their property that night.
Hirzel, she says, “was not called [by the Creaches], he was not dispatched to this address,” she says. And she repeats, ticking off on her fingers, “So he was uncalled, undispatched and unidentified.”
Deputy Brian Hirzel has told investigators that he backed his unmarked cruiser into the Plant Farm parking lot as a convenient place to keep an eye on a house down the street, where residents had earlier requested a check. Hirzel says he was finishing a traffic report when he noticed a man with a gun walking towards the cruiser.
This, according to Hirzel, is what happened next: Creach refused commands to put the gun down, but eventually tucked it in his back waistband. Hirzel got out of his car with his gun drawn, ordered Creach to the ground and, when Creach refused, struck his legs with a baton. And then, the deputy says, Creach reached for his gun.
“He was going to shoot me,” Hirzel says.
The family has been distressed that Creach has been depicted in media accounts as a gun-waving vigilante. He only used the gun as a threat when he felt his own safety at risk, Imogene says. It was often unloaded and rarely cleaned.
Indeed, other things occupied Creach’s time. A devout Baptist, he poured much of his energy into supporting churches from Kellogg and St. Maries to Cheney and Medical Lake. He was one of the founders of the Greenacres Baptist Church but also ministered for free, at various times, at a half-dozen other churches.
“The sheriff’s department [and Spokane Valley Police] have been our friends that we have been able to call alongside to help us,” Imogene says.
But after Aug. 25:
“Our trust … ,” she says with long pauses, “has been … corrupted.”
AT HOME WITH MOM
Neva Harris tugs open a drawer in the table next to her couch and pulls out a brown paper bag holding the few items her son, Quentin Dodd, had when he died. The sack is wrapped in evidence tape, with his brown leather wallet inside, in a separate Ziploc bag.
Back in her son’s old bedroom, amid stacks of cardboard boxes, Harris points to a blue velvet bag. Inside is all that is left of Quentin: his ashes.
“He didn’t have to die,” Harris says. “I don’t think they needed to shoot him like that.”
Long before he was shot in October, Quentin Dodd’s life had started to go downhill. His wife left him. His ever-present temper had worsened. He was abusing drugs, including crack and meth.
He ended up living with his mother and stepfather a lot after the divorce. He would get clean occasionally. “But he’d go back to those people,” Harris says.
Earlier this year, Harris kicked him out. “I told him to get out. My husband told him to get out,” she says. “He was stealing our stuff.”
After a stint at a drug rehab program, Dodd, 50, ended up at a faith-based halfway house in the Valley. There, on the night of Oct. 24, he got into an argument with his roommate about cleaning up. The owner of the house called the police, and Dodd took off.
When deputies found him a block away, Dodd was wielding a large slice of obsidian. Spokane County Sheriff’s Deputy Rustin Olson says Dodd charged him, repeatedly saying, “Shoot me. Shoot me.”
Olson shot him three times from about 20 feet away, reports indicate. Media reports later suggested Dodd was committing “suicide by cop” and detailed a suicide attempt he had made last July.
Law enforcement officials quickly spoke out, underscoring that Dodd was armed and his actions were potentially lethal. “Our ancestors killed mammoths with those types of weapons,” Sheriff Knezovich told the Spokesman soon after Dodd’s death.
But his family says it doesn’t add up.
“They say the confrontation started when he was 20 feet away. Why couldn’t they shoot him in the leg?” asks Granville Dodd, Quentin’s older brother. “He had a rock in his hand. It wasn’t a knife. It was a rock.”
Quentin had problems, they admit. But he was baptized earlier this year and was trying to get clean — again. “He was trying to get his shit together,” Granville says.
The family, who has contacted a lawyer about Dodd’s death, say they no longer trust Spokane’s law enforcement agencies.
“We have a very rogue police force. It’s not just the sheriffs. It’s everybody,” Granville says. “If I saw lights lit up behind me, I’d drive myself to the police station. I’d call 911 and say, ‘I’m on the phone with you right now.’ There’s no way I’m going to be left alone with these guys.”
THE SICK AND THE DEAD
It’s unfair to heap all the blame on cops when they shoot a suicidal or mentally ill person, Sheriff Knezovich says. We all have some responsibility in those cases: We don’t care for our sick, and yet we act surprised when they come in conflict with law enforcement.
“There’s been a failure, a chain-reaction failure,” Knezovich says. “You’ve dropped that problem in our laps. The state has walked away from that issue. Our reps, governors and everyone else — they put a lot of lip service to the issue, but when it comes down to it, they’ve cut all these important issues and they push it down to the locals. Locals have to deal with it.”
And when law enforcement deals with it, they often go into a situation blind, Knezovich adds.
“We don’t know who we’re dealing with. … All we know: They’re armed. They’re in my community, they’re on my streets and if I don’t get them off that street, you, the citizen, your kid, your wife, walking down the street, is going to deal with that guy,” the sheriff says. “You cut these mental health issues, and you put everybody at risk.”
Knezovich isn’t alone in his concerns. At a press conference in Olympia last week, state mental health workers handed out copies of a flier titled, “Don’t Look Away.”
“With a collapsing mental health safety net,” it reads, “Washington is losing the fight against preventable tragedies.”
The flier was plastered with recent headlines: “State pays in blood for flawed mental health system,” Seattle P.I.; “Shooting rampage suspect described as deeply troubled,” Seattle Times.
“I know we could have thrown some Spokane headlines up there, unfortunately,” says Jonathan Rosenblum, assistant to the president of Service Employees International Union 1199NW. The union represents 2,500 mental health workers throughout the state. “Every community is affected by this, I’m afraid.”
It’s no coincidence that violent crimes perpetrated by and against people with mental illness are up, says Rosenblum, who led last week’s press conference. Government services intended to help them have been cut. Where the mentally ill could once seek help from a plethora of agencies, now they have very few outlets.
“Two hundred thousand people on our street, struggling at work, struggling in their home life … did not have access to services,” Rosenblum says.
“These are not random, unrelated acts,” he says of violent episodes involving the mentally ill. “They’re the warning signs of a mental health system that is spiraling into deeper and deeper crisis.”
In September, Gov. Chris Gregoire ordered the state Department of Social and Health Services to cut its budget by 6.3 percent, or $168 million. Susan Dreyfus, who runs the department, said $25.6 million would be cut from mental health spending.
“It will cost us a lot more money, and it will cost us lives,” Rosenblum says. “Further cuts are going to kill people.”
He refers to figures from a recent state Senate report showing that treatment through a community mental health program costs, on average, less than $2,200 a year. Locking somebody up in prison, on the other hand, costs $31,000 a year.
“The state is cutting … programs that we know work, that get people off the street, into services, into treatment, into programs that cost money but save money in the long run,” Rosenblum says.
In 2006, the state’s Mental Health Transformation Project issued a report for the DSHS calling the state’s mental health system “a maze.” One specialist interviewed for the report said, “We have to turn people away without treatment because we cannot use money that we have saved through efficiencies. It is a financial and moral disaster.”