Tyler Barriss, a 26-year-old California man who admitted making a phony emergency call to police in late 2017 that led to the shooting death of an innocent Kansas resident, has been sentenced to 20 years in federal prison.
Tyler Barriss, in an undated selfie.
Barriss has admitted to his role in the Kansas man's death, as well as to dozens of other non-fatal "swatting" attacks. These dangerous hoaxes involve making false claims to emergency responders about phony hostage situations or bomb threats, with the intention of prompting a heavily-armed police response to the location of the claimed incident.
On Dec. 28, 2017, Barriss placed a call from California to police in Wichita, Kan., claiming that he was a local resident who’d just shot his father and was holding other family members hostage.
When Wichita officers responded to the address given by the caller — 1033 W. McCormick — they shot and killed 28-year-old Andrew Finch, a father of two who had done nothing wrong.
Barriss admitted setting that fatal swatting in motion after getting in the middle of a dispute between two Call of Duty online gamers, 18-year-old Casey Viner from Ohio and Shane Gaskill, 20, from Wichita. Viner and Gaskill are awaiting their own trials in connection with Finch's death.
Barriss pleaded guilty to making hoax bomb threats in phone calls to the headquarters of the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission in Washington, D.C. He also made bomb threat and swatting calls from Los Angeles to emergency numbers in Ohio, New Hampshire, Nevada, Massachusetts, Illinois, Utah, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, New York, Michigan, Florida and Canada.
“I hope that this prosecution and lengthy sentence sends a strong message that will put an end to the juvenile and reckless practice of ‘swatting’ within the gaming community, as well as in any other context,” said Kansas U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister said in a written statement. “Swatting is just a terrible idea. I also hope that today’s result helps bring some peace to the Finch family and some closure to the Wichita community."
Many readers have commented here that the officer who fired the shot which killed Andrew Finch should also face prosecution. However, the district attorney for the county that encompasses Wichita decided in April 2018 that the officer will not face charges, and will not be named because he isn’t being charged with a crime.
As the victim of a swatting attack in 2013 and two other attempted swattings, I’m glad to finally see a swatting prosecution that may actually serve as a deterrent to this idiotic and extremely dangerous crime going forward.
But as I've observed in previous stories about swatting attacks, it would also be nice if more police forces around the country received additional training on exercising restraint in the use of deadly force, particularly in responding to hostage or bomb threat scenarios that have hallmarks of a swatting hoax.
For example, perpetrators of swatting often call non-emergency numbers at state and local police departments to carry out their crimes precisely because they are not local to the region and cannot reach the target’s police department by calling 911. This is exactly what Tyler Barriss did in the Wichita case and others. Swatters also often use text-to-speech (TTY) services for the hearing impaired to relay hoax swat calls, as was the case with my 2013 swatting.