A Kansas court has sentenced a man to 20 years in prison on charges related to swatting, including one incident which started with a $1.50 (£1.15) bet on a Call Of Duty: WWII match and ended with the police shooting an innocent person dead. Swatting is the not-very-funny prank of phoning emergency services with fake threats so cops bust into the prankee’s house, typically when they’re streaming so the pranker can watch and chortle away. With America’s ha-ha-hilariously militarised police, that brings a fair chance they’ll be killed too. The US legal system has seemed slow to respond to swatting so it’s good to see them recognise how serious it is.
As the Associated Press report, Tyler R. Barriss called in a fake report of a shooting and kidnapping at a home in Wichita, Kansas on December 28th 2017. Barriss was allegedly asked to do this by 19-year-old Casey Viner, who thought he was pointing him towards Shane Gaskill, a 20-year-old with whom he had a tiny bet over a Call Of Duty match. Gaskill had supposedly told Viner an old address of his and dared Barriss to “try something”, knowing the cops weren’t even going to his home. The door was instead answered by Andrew Finch, who a police officer shot dead when, he claimed, he thought Finch was reaching for a gun as he moved his hand towards his waistband. Finch was not.
Barriss pleaded guilty to 51 charges to do with fake calls and threats and faces 20 years in prison. Viner and Gaskill have both been charged as co-conspirators. Finch’s family are suing the city and police officers. Prosecutors have not charged the officer who killed Finch.
“We hope that this will send a strong message about swatting, which is a juvenile and senseless practice,” the AP report U.S. attorney Stephen McAllister said. “We’d like to put an end to it within the gaming community and in any other contact. Swatting, as I’ve said before, is not a prank.”
Swatting has been a terrible problem for years but really grown with the militarisation of the US police and the spread of livestreaming and the general state of ‘being online’. Petty rivalries, spats, and harrassment can escalate to deadly levels so easily with one single phone call, and the perpetrator can often sit back and just watch the cops come in live on stream. Seattle police last year launched an anti-swatting initiative letting people who felt at risk register so the cops are at least aware it might be a hoax when they come in waving their guns.