Two individuals playing on-line “Call of Duty” got in an argument over a $1.50 bet on the game. At this date, the names and locations of these two are unknown. We’ll call them “A” and “B.” A asked B for B’s home address; B responded with a valid address, but not his own. Instead, it was the address of Andrew Finch’s home in Wichita, Kansas. Finch had nothing to do with the game, A or B. A then contacted a third person, who used the on-line name “SWAuTistic,” and A either asked or hired SWAuTistic to “swat” B.
Swatting isn’t brand new; it’s been around a while. The essence to if it is that as a crude practical joke, or punishment, you call in a false report against the victim to the police with facts intended to trigger a massive police response.
That’s what SWAuTistic did. Calling from California, he described a hostage/homicide/arson situation at the false address A had provided him. The Wichita Police Department sent a 12-man SWAT team. When Andrew Finch opened the door to his home to see why there were all the flashing lights outside, he was greeted with spotlights and shouted demands. He raised his hands, lowered his hands, raised his hands and then was shot by a police officer, armed with an AK-15, from a distance of 40 yards. The shot killed Finch. Significantly, SWAuTistic was still on the phone with Wichita Dispatch when the fatal shot was fired.
SWAuTistic is alleged to be Tyler Barriss, a 25-year-old from South Los Angeles. Barriss has a history of swatting. Barriss was arrested in California and extradited to Kansas, where he has been arraigned on charges of involuntary manslaughter.1 Barriss has made some extremely damaging admissions in a YouTube video. There may be some pretrial attempts to avoid a conviction based on mental state, but it is very likely Barriss will plead out and face a multi-year sentence.
But SWAuTistic isn’t the only person who committed a crime in this sad chain of events. It was A who set the process in motion by soliciting a crime. Specifically, he solicited a false report of a crime. WC isn’t admitted to the practice of law in Kansas, but the Kansas laws are pretty clear: a false report of a crime is a felony. A, the on-line gamer who contacted SWAuTistic, solicited commission of a felony. A needs to be charged for his crime.
The third crime committed in Wichita that night was by the Wichita police officer who fired the fatal shot. That shot was inexcusable. The police were 40 yards away; Finch was in spotlights and the police against a dark background. Even if Finch had a weapon – he didn’t; he was unarmed – he couldn’t see a target. The chances of him hitting someone if he had a firearm and had fired it were extremely low. The police officer was armed with the much more accurate weapon. Only one police officer fired. He did so because, unlike the other dozen or so cops around him, he made an inexcusably bad assessment of the situation. His colleagues correctly concluded that either Finch hadn’t drawn a weapon or, if he had, it wasn’t an immediate threat. His colleagues realized that if the purported murderer was still talking to dispatch on the phone he couldn’t be the guy at the door. We cut the police a lot of slack – some would say far too much slack – when they have to make instantaneous, life or death decisions. It’s called “qualified immunity,” While Kansas law does not require infallible judgment by its police – “He is not required to know with certainty that his life or another life is threatened in order to justify use of deadly force.” – the use of force must be reasonable under the circumstances.2 WC very seriously doubts that the unnamed officer’s use of deadly force was justified in this case.
Because the excuse offered – Finch lowered his hands to his waist – proves too much. That could have been you. Uncertain what was happening, Uncertain if the orders were directed at you. Confused, blinded and standing in your own doorway. And shot dead.
WC recognizes that charges against the officer are unlikely. The Wichita Police Department has a long history of unnecessary shootings, inadequate officer training and an indifference to human life. But there is probable cause to charge that unnamed police officer with involuntary manslaughter, as well. A jury should decide if his use of force was reasonable.
Because there were three crimes, committed by three different people, in Wichita on December 28, 2017.