Police Killed a Man During a Swatting Hoax
A man is dead because a stranger lost a video game
On Thursday night, Wichita police shot and killed Andrew Finch after he was SWATted as part of a Call of Duty dispute that he himself wasn’t even involved in. “Swatting,” which has a storied and disturbing history in the gaming community, involves bringing the local SWAT team down on someone by calling with a false report of violence at their address. It has been used against women who turned down other gamers’ advances, against live-streamers on Twitch, and even against congressional representatives who propose harsher penalties for online harassment. And now, against Andrew Finch and his family.
As The Wichita Eagle reported, gamers on Twitter quickly began pointing to an argument over an online Call of Duty match, run using UMG Gaming’s platform with $1.50 wager, as the starting point for the SWATting. “Two teammates [on the losing team] who go by the handles ‘Miruhcle’ and ‘Baperizer’ got into an argument following a loss,” summarized GameInformer, “over public Twitter posts and private direct messages with each other. Baperizer brought in a third party, a user who calls themselves ‘Swautistic,’ to threaten a Swatting against Miruhcle. For whatever reason, Miruhcle upped the ante by taunting Baperizer and Swautistic by providing them with an address in Wichita, implying that the address was his.”
The address was instead Andrew Finch’s, and Swautistic allegedly took the bait and called the Wichita police describing an ongoing hostage situation at Finch’s address. In a since-deleted tweet on his now-suspended Twitter account, SWAuTistic denied responsibility for the attacks … but didn’t deny making the call. “I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING ASWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION [sic],” he tweeted. A caller claiming to be SWAuTistic also participated in an interview with the YouTube channel Drama Alert in which he admitted to SWATting Finch’s address. Engadget also has more of SWAuTistic’s tweets, which suggest that he has SWATted others and called in bomb threats before.
The Los Angeles Police Department has since arrested 25-year-old Tyler Raj Barris in connection with the case.
While this is absolutely an illustration of the worst of the worst in toxic online behavior, Andrew Finch’s death isn’t simply an issue of SWATting and the callousness of some online gamers. It is also yet another example of the poor training and resulting police brutality that’s endemic in the United States. “What gives the cops the right to open fire?” Lisa Finch, the mother of victim Andrew Finch, said to The Washington Post. “Why didn’t they give him the same warning they gave us? That cop murdered my son over a false report.”
The Wichita police department issued their own statement on the incident. They claim that Finch only briefly complied with verbal commands to put his hands up, and when he reached for his waistband, an officer fired one round which killed him. You can watch the released body camera footage and determine things for yourself, but be warned that it contains graphic content.
“The irresponsible actions of a prankster put people and lives at risk,” said Wichita Police Department Deputy Chief Troy Livingston. “The incident was a nightmare for everyone involved, including the family and our police department. Due to the actions of a prankster, we have an innocent victim. If the false police call had not been made, we would not have been there … We don’t see it as a joke, it’s not a prank. It heightened the awareness of the officers, and we think it lead to this deadly encounter.”
However, the suggestion that “heightened awareness” should naturally make a SWAT team member trigger-happy only makes sense if your officers are, to put it bluntly, not particularly well-trained in deescalation or high-pressure situations. Police shootings in the U.S. are astronomically higher than those in other developed countries, and they aren’t even all reported to the FBI. Police training takes three years in Germany; it takes an average of 19 weeks in the United States. Only in the U.S. is it commonly accepted that “heightened awareness” and stress should make an officer – whose entire job is based around dealing professionally with that stress – more likely to pull out a gun. That absolutely needs to change.
Brianna Wu, herself a victim of horrific online harassment and currently a candidate for Congress, tweeted about the incident and the legal changes it should inspire.
Amazingly, Swatting people is not a federal crime. This matters, because these acts usually take place across state lines.
As your congresswoman, I would sign onto legislation that would put these criminals in federal prison. https://t.co/4BqhOZOZ9D
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) December 29, 2017
Humans tend to want one answer to a problem. But that doesn’t always work for complex issues.
I’m advocating for a federal anti-Swatting law. I also agree that training and accountability for law enforcement is paramount.
Both are critical. It’s not either-or.
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) December 29, 2017
RE: Federal anti-Swatting legislation:
Most people don’t realize this, but most of the laws for online crimes were written back in the 90s. Our congress is woefully, embarrassingly behind the times.
We need a congress that understands the Information Age.
— Brianna Wu (@Spacekatgal) December 30, 2017
This is a horrific incident in every way. No one should die because a stranger lost a $1.50 video game wager. No one should die because a police officer got jumpy. This was an entirely preventable death, caused by a stranger’s malice and a national crisis of police violence. It should never have happened.
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