By Texas Christian Injury Lawyer, Tim O’Hare
On Dec. 28, 2017, 28-year-old Andrew Finch, a resident of Wichita, Kansas, was shot and killed by Wichita police. He was the unarmed, unintended victim of a “swatting” prank.
Swatting, by definition, is making a false police report, usually of a violent crime, with the intention of sending law enforcement to a specific location. According to the FBI, about 400 swatting cases occur annually. And certainly not all end in the death of an innocent victim, but that was not the case in Kansas. There are currently no federal laws on the books about swatting.
It all started in Los Angeles, when 25-year-old gamer, Tyler Barriss, allegedly placed a call to Wichita police reporting a shooting and hostage situation after a dispute over a small wager online in a “Call of Duty” video game tournament. Barriss called 911 claiming to have shot his father and to be holding his wife and young son at gunpoint. He then gave police dispatch an address — that address happened to be that of Andrew Finch, who was not involved in the gaming dispute.
When officers responded to the call, Finch stepped out of his home. No doubt confused and frightened at the situation, he allegedly lowered his arm toward his waistband and was shot by an officer who believed Finch was reaching for a weapon. Finch did not survive.
What is just punishment in swatting cases such as this? Can swatters be charged with murder? Should Barriss be charged in Finch’s death?
This is not Barriss’ first offense. He has a history of calling in false alarms to police, including a case in Canada that resulted in Calgary police surrounding a woman’s apartment with guns drawn. He also served jail time in Los Angeles for calling in two fake bomb threats in 2015. Investigators have connected him to about 20 other alleged swatting and hoax threat incidents.
Swatting cases can be challenging because intent isn’t always clear. While first-degree murder may not apply, arguably, second-degree murder might apply as the suspect willfully acts with indifference and disregard for human life.
In this case, the suspect has been criminally charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm and interference with a law enforcement officer for allegedly placing the hoax call.
Should there be a federal law against swatting? Should Barriss and other swatting suspects be held responsible for deaths that may occur? We want to know what you think. Share your thoughts with us on our Facebook page!
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