Update, March 30: Much tougher false alarm punishments are about to become law in Kansas after last year’s deadly swatting call.
Last year, Wichita, Kansas resident Andrew Finch was shot and killed by police responding to a false report of a hostage situation at a local home. None of the individuals allegedly involved in the swatting prank were connected to Finch. Now, Kansas lawmakers have a bill increasing the penalties for false emergency reports leading to injury or death, and that bill is set to soon become law.
The Andrew T. Finch bill - or HB 2581 - has passed both sides of the Kansas state legislature. The House voted 117-0, and the Senate voted 40-0 in favour. After those unanimous approvals, the bill now only needs the signature of Governor Jeff Colyer to become law.
— Senator Lynn Rogers (@LynnRogers4KS) March 27, 2018
Knowingly providing false information to emergency services is, of course, already a crime, but the amended law would increase penalties if a false report leads to bodily harm or death. The felony charge of making a false alarm about violent criminal activity currently carries a maximum penalty of 17 months in prison.
If the bill is signed into law, false reports of violent crime that lead to bodily harm would carry a minimum prison sentence of 32 months, up to a maximum over 20 years in the event of someone’s death. You can read the details of the bill here, and see a chart of Kansas sentencing structure here.
Lisa Finch, the mother of the victim, tells local news outlet KSN that she’s “very happy that it's named after my son. If it prevents even one tragedy like this happening to another family, that will be amazing.”
Update, January 12: Tyler Barriss, the man accused in a fatal Kansas swatting incident, faces an involuntary manslaughter charge.
A week ago, Tyler Barriss was arrested in Los Angeles in connection with a false emergency call that led to the fatal officer-involved shooting of a man in Wichita, Kansas. According to inmate records from the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office (as reported by Rolling Stone), Kansas authorities took Barriss into custody yesterday, and he faces charges of involuntary manslaughter, along with giving false alarm and interference with law enforcement officers.
Kansas state law defines involuntary manslaughter as an unintentional killing committed either recklessly or as part of another unlawful act. The maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter is 36 months in prison, and a fine of up to $300,000.
Barriss also faces criminal charges in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for another swatting call, which the Globe and Mail report involved a woman targeted for her “online persona.” No one was hurt in this incident, but Barriss faces mischief and fraud charges.
In 2016, Barriss pleaded no contest to charges of making a false bomb threat and was jailed for eight months, and remains under investigation in his native Los Angeles for numerous other emergency hoaxes.
Update, January 5 2018: Tyler Barriss has been arrested for allegedly making the swatting call that led to a fatal officer-involved shooting in Kansas.
Tyler Barriss was arrested in South Los Angeles on the afternoon of December 31 in connection with a swatting call that led to the fatal officer-involved shooting of unarmed victim Andrew Finch. The 25-year-old Barriss faces felony charges for allegedly reporting a false homicide and hostage situation to the Wichita, Kansas Police Department.
According to The Wichita Eagle, Barriss waived his right to extradition at a hearing in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Judge Deborah Brazil asked if he was the man wanted by Kansas authorities, to which Barriss responded yes. Sherrif’s offices in both states are making arrangements for Barriss’ travel to Kansas, which will occur in the next few weeks.
The incident allegedly began as part of a dispute between two Call of Duty players over a $1.50 bet. Many within the Call of Duty community suggest that one player provided a false address to provoke the other, and that second player then contacted Barriss to make the swatting call. Barriss reportedly also called in the fake bomb threat at CWL Dallas in December.
The LA Times report that Barriss had already been under investigation for numerous other false calls to law enforcement, including two dozen fake bomb threats leading to evacuations of television stations and an elementary school in the Los Angeles area. Barriss went to jail in May 2016 after pleading no contest to charges of making a false bomb threat. He was released on January 20 2017, but was arrested a day later in the San Fernando Valley and spent another seven months incarcerated.
Wichita police have released both the 911 call that led to the incident and body camera footage of the shooting. Victim Andrew Finch was unarmed, but police say he reached toward his waistline multiple times despite commands to keep his hands raised. The officer involved has not been identified. Sedgwick County district attorney Marc Bennett says his office is continuing to investigate the shooting.
Original story, December 29 2017: Last night, local news sources reported that a Wichita, Kansas man was shot and killed by police after they were falsely informed of a hostage situation at a local home. Members of the Call of Duty community report that this was the result of a swatting prank between two players unrelated to the man who was killed.
Those reports have been collected by Dexerto, and they point to a $1.50 wager on UMG as the source of the dispute between players. One player reportedly provided false information about his home address in an effort to “seem tough,” pointing to a nearby address in Wichita. The other player then allegedly called local police to tell them about a false hostage situation at that address. Both players implicated in the dispute have deactivated their social media accounts.
Deputy police chief Troy Livingston tells the Wichita Eagle that “we were told someone had an argument with their mother and dad was accidentally shot. And now that person was holding mother, brother and sister hostage. We learned through that call that a father was deceased, and had been shot in the head. That was the information we were working off of.”
When the 28-year-old victim came the door, one of the officers discharged his weapon. The man was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead. It’s unclear why the officer fired. Police have not said whether the man had a weapon, but they don’t believe he fired at the officers. The family of the victim say he was unarmed. The officer responsible is a 7-year veteran of the department, and according to department policy has been placed on paid administrative leave pending further investigation.
Swatting is a disturbingly common prank among certain members of the gaming community, and as dangerous as it is has rarely resulted in death. Earlier this year, a British man was charged in a swatting incident that saw a US man shot with rubber bullets by authorities investigating the call. The victim was injured, but survived the incident.