The mother of Andrew Finch, the 28-year-old man killed by Wichita police during a swatting incident in December, says a bill to strengthen penalties for false calls will save lives.
Lisa Finch urged Kansas lawmakers during a Tuesday hearing to advance a bill that would allow prosecutors to file a murder charge if someone dies during a swatting call.
She wants the Legislature to name the bill after her son.
"Passing this bill will save lives and families from having to deal with everything that goes along with what happened. It has changed our lives forever," Finch said.
Andrew was a "generous, loyal, straightforward man," she said. He leaves behind a "big grieving, suffering family."
Tyler Barriss, 25, of Los Angeles, has been charged with manslaughter in Finch’s death. He is accused of making a bogus call, reporting a made-up murder and hostage situation that prompted police to respond to Finch’s home.
The bill would make any false call to fire, police or any other emergency response agency a misdemeanor. The call would become a felony if the person uses a false identity or electronically masks their identity.
If someone is harmed because of a false call, the penalties increase. If someone is killed, the charge could be a Level 2 felony, comparable to second-degree murder.
The bill is the result of bipartisan work between Rep. John Carmichael, a Wichita Democrat, and Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, along with Rep. Patty Markley, an Overland Park Republican. A non-lethal swatting incident took place in Markley’s district last month.
Michael Mihalakis, who is listed as a witness in the Barriss case, said Finch had lost his life over a $1.50 bet on a Call of Duty game.
"At the end of the day, call a spade a spade. This bill is being introduced because of Andrew Finch," Mihalakis said.
The bill as currently written is not named after anyone. Whitmer said the decision should be left to the committee, which could work the bill anytime.
Lobbyists for law enforcement and prosecutors spoke in favor of the bill during the hearing. No one spoke in opposition.
Kim Parker, with the Kansas County and District Attorneys Association, said that while prank calls are usually funny and benign, swatting calls can cause chaos, danger and even death. Bomb threats can disrupt business and education when called in to workplaces and schools, she said.
"Fake threats divert emergency resources from the real emergencies," Parker said.
Ed Klumpp, who represents several law enforcement associations, said swatting is costly for the agencies that must respond.
"It also places officers in a no-win situation," he said.
Wichita has not named the officer who shot Finch, who was unarmed. Finch’s family has sued the city over the death.
The bill does not affect law enforcement. Speaking with reporters after the hearing, Lisa Finch said she was a "little hesitant" when she heard that police were not included.
The bill should apply to anyone who is held accountable, she said.
"Everybody is held accountable for their mistakes," Finch said.
Still, she said, the bill is a step in the right direction.
"I really do support this bill," Finch said.
Contributing: Dion Lefler