Questions Arise About Swatting Prank That Ended In Death
There was a swatting incident on December 30, 2017 in Wichita, Kansas. I’ve been reporting on it on my other blog. Some of you might already know that my other blog deals solely with cyber abuse, whether harassment, stalking, swatting, threats, spoofing, or combinations.
Today after reading some articles and comments on Twitter about the most recent swatting incident, I asked myself if there is anything I could have done to make information more available; to inform the public that spill-over of internet harassment into the personal lives of target victims is dangerous. However, as with other issues, people don’t seem to take an interest unless major media reports it first or unless it happens to them. Then too, I’m only a drop of water in a vast ocean.
Swatting is a prank where someone makes a call to a police department with a false story of a happening crime involving killing or hostages and guns. Police arrive and at times, SWAT is dispatched.
In order to pull-off the prank, an address is needed and that is generally obtained by doxing targets. Doxing is the seeking and gathering of personal information of others to use to harass, cause them fear and distress, post publicly on the internet, and yes — to swat or encourage others to do so.
On November 23, 2014, I blogged about a civil case filed in Northern Illinois that involved swatting. The plaintiff in that case was awarded $50,000 by a jury.
On February 9. 2015, I blogged about a case where a Nevada man swatted a resident of Naperville, IL and was extradited to Illinois for prosecution. The State’s Attorney stated that he would seek legislation to make swatting a felony.
On May 20, 2015, I recapped those two cases in another blog post about a couple arrested for harassment by eletronic media.
In August 2017, I wrote a post about a Bill introduced by Representatives Katherine Clark (D-MA), Susan Brooks (R-IN) and Patrick Meehan (R-PA). The Bill is H.R. 3067 and is titled the Online Safety Modernization Act of 2017. If passed, it will make swatting and doxing federal crimes.
Now that the father of a 2-year old and 7-year old is dead because of a swatting prank, Kansas.com, the Post Gazette, and the New York Times among other news sources, are reporting on the introduced Bill and asking the question, who is at blame for Andrew Finch’s death?
In this case, Tyler R. Barriss, 25-years old, has been arrested for the Wichita swatting. It began as a feud on a gaming channel. When threatened with being swatted, the person targeted for swatting gave the perpetrator a fraudulent address.
Barris is alleged to have called the Wichita City Hall, reporting that his dad had been killed. City Hall lost connection and contacted 911 who called the telephone number received by City Hall. Barriss then allegedly told 911 dispatch that he killed his dad, was holding his mom and little brother hostage, and had poured gasoline throughout the house and might set it on fire.
The dispatcher asked questions, such as if it was a one story or two-story house. Barriss answered it is a one-story house. It’s not known if the dispatcher reported that because the address turned out to be a two-story house.
I did not hear the dispatcher ask for the caller’s name.
When asked if he is White, Black, Asian or Hispanic, Barriss did not answer the question. He was asked twice, and failed to answer twice. Evidently, he did not know the race of his target victim who he was impersonating.
Barriss said that he had a handgun but when asked what kind of handgun, he said he didn’t know because it was his dad’s.
Barriss could not tell the dispatcher if his house faced north, south, east or west.
This did not raise red flags for the dispatcher and it begs to question when should a dispatcher not take a caller seriously? Their job is to take callers seriously and get all the information they can to protect others. In this case, hostages needed protecting.
The police arrived expecting to confront an armed man who had just shot his dad in the head, who was holding his mom and little brother hostage, and who poured gasoline throughout the house and was thinking about lighting it.
When Andrew Finch heard noises outside the house and opened the front door to see what it was, he was met with lights and police shouting instructions. One officer shot Andrew, killing him.
It was reported that the perpetrator went on Twitter with the following;
“I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION.”
And now there are people, including the media, asking who is to blame for Andrew’s death.
Because states legislate their own laws, some states have laws that others do not. Illinois has a felony murder law; (720 ILCS 5/9-1), that states in pertinent part:
“A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits first degree murder if, in performing the acts which cause the death, he is attempting or committing a forcible felony other than second degree murder.”
On December 7, 2013, I posted about two different cases where people who did not pull the trigger were charged with murder.
In October 2011, three men and a teen, who was also the brother of one of the men, walked into a pizzeria. One man showed a gun and attempted to rob the business. Frank Pobjecky, an off duty Sheriff’s deputy, was in the pizzeria. He retrieved a gun from behind the counter and shot all three men, wounding them. Video shows that 16-year old Michael Sago, Jr. was crawling on the floor trying to get to the door, when Pobjecky aimed and shot Michael 3 times in the back. Michael’s brother, Brandon, was charged with felony murder, although he did not have a gun. All three men were charged. One pleaded guilty. Brandon and the man with the gun were convicted and sentenced to 40 years in state prison. Deputy Pobjecky was not charged.
In summary, while committing a crime, if a person is killed, the person or persons committing the crime can be charged with felony murder. It’s not that simple however, the perpetrators must be committing a felony crime.
Here’s another reason why this incident is interesting. Barriss resides in California. In at least one county in California, I was told that crimes committed over phone, email or the internet from California, actually take place in the jurisdiction where the victim resides. Barriss is alleged to have made the call out of California, but it was to harm a person in Wichita, Kansas.
Kansas has already alerted California of its plan to extradite Barriss.
Does the State of Kansas have felony murder law? I had to research first before writing this as fact; Kansas has a law, KSA 21-3401, for felony murder.
Kansas holds two basic approaches to the application of the felony-murder doctrine; agency and proximate cause theories. The proximate cause application holds that a felon may be held responsible under the felony murder rule for a killing committed by a non-felon if the felon set in motion the acts which resulted in the victim’s death.
Taking all of this into consideration, the only question for me, at this moment, is whether Barriss was committing a felony when he called-in the fraudulent report? In Kansas, falsely reporting that a crime has been committed or suspected, knowing that such information is false and intending that the officer or agency act in reliance of the reported information, can be a misdemeanor or a felony. The way the statute is written is confusing because it appears there are missing sub-sections on the website.
To charge Barriss with felony murder, the State first has to find that he was committing a felony by making the false report. They might not be able to do that with obstruction of justice as a misdemeanor, but can with identity theft. In Kansas, using an address to impersonate another is identity theft, a level 8 felony.
Andrew’s mom has expressed that she wants to see the officer charged with killing Andrew. That brings up an issue reported and discussed on this blog numerous times; i.e., should law enforcement officers have discretion to shoot to kill based on their thinking that a suspect is armed? Juries simply do not find officers guilty of murder when abusing their discretion.
In this case, the police arrived based on the swatter’s false report. The swatter’s false report was deliberately designed for law enforcement officers to shoot to kill. The swatter is the proximate cause for Andrew’s death.
By the way, this is not Barriss’ first brush with the law regarding false reports. He’s been arrested previously for making false bomb reports.
My heart goes out to Andrew’s mom, children and family. As Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin has stated, no mother wants to be part of a club borne of tragedy and heartbreak.
Posted on 01/03/2018, in Cases, Cyber Abuse and tagged Andrew Finch, California, felony murder, identity theft, internet, laws, Michael Sago Jr, swatting, Tyler R. Barriss, Wichita. Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.