14:45, January 04 65 0 abajournal.com

2018-01-04 14:45:05
Suspect faces charge in ‘swatting’ death; ex-solicitor general says laws must catch up to behavior

The Los Angeles Police Department was already investigating a series of hoaxes by a man implicated in a so-called swatting incident that led to the December shooting death of a man by police nearly 1,400 miles away in Wichita, Kansas, and planned to meet with federal prosecutors to discuss their findings, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Detectives investigated Tyler Barriss’ possible involvement in several false calls and similar hoaxes during the past year, said Deputy Chief Horace Frank, who oversees the department’s counter-terrorism and special operations bureau.

So-called swatting is described as making a false police report, usually of a violent crime, to send SWAT teams or other law enforcement to a location. CNN reports that prosecutors in Southern California filed a warrant on Wednesday with the goal of sending Barriss to Kansas to face a felony false alarm charge.

In May 2016, Barriss was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail after pleading no contest to making a false bomb threat and released last January. A day later, he was arrested for violating a protective order and spent another seven months in jail, the Times reports.

Police Sgt. Daniel Suttles of Glendale, California, said Barriss was behind at least two dozen bomb threats in the area in recent years, including ones that led to the evacuations of a television station and an elementary school.

“He knows exactly what to say,” Suttles said. “He knows what a 911 operator will ask and is convincing.”

Citing an online news service with a focus on gaming and picked up by NBC News and The Associated Press, Barriss allegedly was asked by an online gamer to “swat” someone regarding a dispute over a minor bet.

SWAT officers in Kansas unwittingly believed a man who called 911 had shot his father and was holding his wife and young son at gunpoint. An officer ended up shooting and killing 28-year-old Andrew Finch on Dec. 28 after Finch moved his hand to his waistband, CNN reports.

Finch was unarmed, says Andrew Stroth, a civil rights lawyer in Chicago who represents Finch’s family. Stroth criticized police for not dealing properly with the situation.

“Swatting is not new,” Stroth told the Times. “Prank calling is not new. These officers should be equipped to handle these situations.

The FBI estimates there are approximately 400 cases of so-called swatting annually, and this incident highlights concerns and the need for specific statutory approaches to such crimes.

“The law hasn’t totally caught up to this type of thing, which is obviously not just a prank gone awry but something that is really despicable behavior and diverting … some of our nation’s most important kind of first responders’ assets away from serious crimes and to something else,” Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general of the U.S. and a professor at the Georgetown University Law Center, said in an interview Tuesday with National Public Radio.

Katyal, who has studied so-called swatting and includes it in his courses at Georgetown, says the cases are “challenging because essentially you have a lack of total intent.” But while the perpetrators likely do not intend the killing, “what they have done, at least arguably, is act with extreme indifference to the value of life.”

Katyal believes that in such a case second-degree murder might apply because “they’ve acted so willfully, with such disregard for the value of life, that we want to treat that not as manslaughter but as murder.”