People are placing prank calls that lure cops to people’s homes. One victim’s family is still trying to hold police accountable nearly 3 years after his death.

People are placing prank calls that lure cops to people’s homes. One victim’s family is still trying to hold police accountable nearly 3 years after his death.

  • Andrew Finch died in December 2017, after being shot by a Wichita, Kansas, police officer during a swatting call.
  • The prank, which originated among the gamer community, is when a person calls the police and lies about a violent crime going on at a rival gamer's home.
  • Finch didn't know the people who organized the swatting — the pranksters used the wrong address when calling the police. 
  • Finch's family has been suing the city for the past three years, saying they want the police officer who shot Finch to be held accountable.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

On a cold December night in 2017, Andrew Finch heard a commotion outside his Wichita, Kansas, home. 

Finch, unarmed and wearing sweatpants and a sweatshirt, opened his front door. He found several Wichita Police officers, ordering him to put his hands up and walk toward them. 

Less than 10 seconds later, he was fatally shot.

Finch was the victim of a swatting, a serious crime that originated in the online gaming world as a way to seek revenge on opponents.

During a swatting, a person calls the police on another person, falsely saying there's an ongoing hostage situation, a grisly murder, or another serious crime happening at their address. The severity of the crime triggers police to send a SWAT team to the victim's door.

Finch wasn't a gamer, and he had no ties to the person who called the police to his home. A serial swatter named Tyler Barriss had called police to Finch's home accidentally, after being told someone else — someone he had been paid to swat — lived there.

Barriss is now spending 20 years in prison following a conviction on charges tied to Finch's death, and the man who paid him to do the swat, Casey Viner, is serving a 15-month sentence.

The police officer who shot Finch, however, has not been charged.

Finch's mother, Lisa Finch, is in the midst of a nearly three-year legal battle to hold the Wichita Police Department responsible for her son's death. 

"The real issue in this case is the failure by the Wichita Police Department," civil rights attorney Andrew M. Stroth, who represents Finch's family, told Insider. "Officer [Justin] Rapp — at that moment of time without cause or provocation or any real due diligence — shot and killed Andy Finch."

Finch is the only known person to die during a swatting call

Swatting is not new. The FBI raised concerns about the prank calls in as early as 2008, in a report in which the agency called it a "serious twist" on prank calls.

Finch is the only known person to die from a swatting incident, but others have been injured. In 2015, a man named Tyran Dobbs was hospitalized following a swatting call in Maryland, during which police shot him in the head and chest with rubber bullets after someone called 911 saying he was holding people hostage for money. More recently, police swarmed the Los Angeles home of a Black Lives Matter activists in response to a swatting call.

Tyler Barriss appears before Judge Bruce Brown Tuesday morning, May 22, 2018 in Wichita.
Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

While there is no FBI data on swatting incidents in the US, Kevin Kolbye, a former FBI assistant special agent who investigated swatting crimes and is now an assistant police chief in Arlington, Texas, told Insider that there are likely about 1,000 incidents a year across the country. 

It's often difficult for police officers to distinguish a real 911 call from a swatting call because swatters hide their identities through falsified phone numbers, and ratchet up the seriousness of crimes in order to ensure police swiftly respond.  

"As the information is going out, police and SWAT teams are rolling out to these things thinking they've got a real-life crisis situation that's a life or death situation," Kolbye said.

Finch didn't know the gamers who called in the swatting prank

According to court records reviewed by Insider, the incident involving Finch started with a game of "Call of Duty" in early December 2017.

Gamers Viner and Shane Gaskill lost the game and a $1.50 wager. Gaskill killed Viner's character in a friendly fire incident during the game and, as punishment, Viner wanted to have him swatted.

Viner contacted Barriss — who at the time went by the Twitter handle @SWAuTistic — to do the swatting. When Barriss followed Gaskill on Twitter, Gaskill suspected Barriss was trying to swat him and sent him an address.

That address, however, was a place where he had lived months earlier. The home's new resident was Finch.

On December 28, 2017, Barriss called the Wichita Police Department, disguising his identity through an online calling app that gave him a local area code. In multiple calls to the department's dispatch and to 911, Barriss, assuming a fake identity, said he lived at the home, had shot his father, and was holding his mother and sibling hostage.

Wichita Police officer Justin Rapp describes the night he shot Andrew Finch on his front porch.
Bo Rader/Wichita Eagle/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Police arrived at the home minutes later, and an unsuspecting Finch stepped outside to see what the commotion was all about.

Stroth told Insider that Finch was confused as police yelled at him to put his hands up. He didn't know why police were outside his home, or why they were demanding he comply with their orders. 

In the confusion, Finch lowered one of his hands to his waist. Rapp, believing Finch had a gun, shot Finch in the chest from more than 100 feet away. Finch was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital and police found no guns in his home. 

According to Kansas.com, Rapp had been in position for 40 seconds when Finch came outside. Rapp had a full view of Finch's front porch and had been stationed across the street to provide long-range coverage for other officers.

"It's stunning to me that based on the facts, based on the evidence, based on the video evidence, and based on the law that the city of Wichita continues to not take responsibility for the tragic and fatal and unconstitutional shooting of Andy Finch," Stroth told Insider.

'We need to sit down and make sure that we collect more intelligence, more information,' one swatting expert says of police response

Kolbye told Insider that swatting charges are unusual. While states like California and Kansas have signed bills into law that increase penalties for swattings, such incidents in most states result in misdemeanor charges filed against the person who made the false report — if any charges are brought at all.

Bringing more prosecutions against swattings could raise awareness of the prank calls, and help police officers understand how to react to calls when they come in, Kolbye said. 

Andrew Finch.
The Finch family

"I think it takes time and training to say 'slow down before we run into a place thinking something is dying immediately.' We need to sit down and make sure that we collect more intelligence, more information," he added.

It's unclear exactly how often swatting calls result in severe responses from local police departments. 

Some police departments have encouraged people who fear being swatted to put signs in their windows or add their names to databases that officers would see when crimes were called in.

In Seattle, along with a swatting database, the city trains police officers and 911 operators to flag potential swatting calls, and according to NBC News, other cities including Los Angeles have installed similar training measures.

Kolbye said that for now, these are helpful resolutions. He said people should protect their personal information and remove it from public databases, set social media sites on private, and secure IP addresses to keep private information away from swatters and hackers.

He added that more law enforcement officers are taking the time to investigate situations that could be swattings and, ultimately, the responsibility to protect people from swatting should also be on city officials, police officers, and dispatchers, he said.

"The responsibility should not be up to the victim, it should not be up to citizens," Kolbye said. "Law enforcement needs to help resolve this issue, as well as prosecute it."

Finch's family is involved in a nearly three-year legal battle against the city of Wichita

Stroth is now suing the City of Wichita and 10 of the city's police officers in an attempt to hold Rapp and others accountable in Finch's death. 

Stroth first filed a lawsuit against the city in January 2018, less than a month after the shooting.

"Wichita leadership is trying to put all the blame on the young man in California who placed the swatting call," Stroth told the Associated Press at the time. "But let's be clear: the swatter did not shoot the bullet that killed Andy Finch. That was an officer working under the direction of the Wichita Police Department."

In September, a judge ruled against Stroth, ordering the case to be dismissed. Stroth has filed an appeal.

The Wichita Police Department declined to comment.

Stroth said that in future potential swatting cases, police should put safety first instead of immediately reacting. He said they should check phone numbers where call distress calls come in from, confirm addresses, and make sure suspects are consistent with the description from the call.

And above all, Stroth said, police should wait to react.

"Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. They could have just waited and taken a few moments to figure out what was really going on," he said. 

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