Family of Andrew Finch files lawsuit against city of Wichita
The attorney for the family of Andrew Finch – a man shot and killed by a Wichita police officer responding to a fake 911 call – said Tuesday that a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Monday is not about money, but is about holding Wichita police accountable.
“This is about the city of Wichita and the Wichita Police Department taking accountability for the actions of a police department that has a history of excessive force,” said Andrew Stroth, a Chicago civil rights attorney representing the Finch family.
Stroth and the family, along with community activists, held a news conference Tuesday morning in front of City Hall. Finch’s mother, Lisa Finch, told reporters that Police Chief Gordon Ramsay came to her house a few days after the shooting, saying he had been out of town.
“And that conversation we had, he did admit it was wrong. He did say that,” she said. “But then he asked some of the silliest questions.”
In an interview later Tuesday, Stroth said the case is “getting global attention. We’re getting calls in Europe.”
“Our objective is to reform, is to help lead the efforts in reforming the Wichita Police Department.
“This case can be the tipping point and the watershed moment for the City Council … and the city manager ... to chart a new course for the Wichita Police Department.”
The department should name the officer who fired the shot, as is done in several other jurisdictions around the nation “in an effort to be fully transparent,” Stroth said.
Stroth also provided new details about the shooting during the interview: According to eyewitnesses he spoke with, officers were positioned within 8 to 10 feet of the front door where Finch was shot.
If Finch had been seen as a potential threat, it would make more sense for one of the officers nearby to fire a weapon rather than “a sharpshooter 50 yards away behind a truck,” Stroth said. Finch was shot from across the street.
Finch came to the door when he heard a noise in the alley next to his house, Stroth said. Officers surrounded the house.
He called the shooting “a failure on every level” – including not just the officer who fired but those in command and those who are responsible for vetting emergency calls to make sure they aren’t fake.
Finch’s mother said she wants to see laws changed that will keep families in Wichita protected, and will provide Wichita police with better training.
“If an officer is caught doing something wrong, it’s up to District Attorney Marc Bennett to decide to charge them or not and if you look at his record no one is held accountable, nothing is done,” she said.
Wichita police officers have been involved in at least 29 shootings between 2010 and 2015, resulting in at least 15 deaths, according the lawsuit. In most of these cases, the city has declined to release the names of the involved officers.
In an earlier prepared statement Stroth said: “This case represents a fundamental and systemic failure by the City of Wichita and the Wichita Police Department. Andy Finch tragically lost his life due to the unjustified and unconstitutional actions of a Wichita police officer and a pattern, practice and custom of excessive and unreasonable force utilized by the WPD.”
The lawsuit cites FBI crime statistics showing Wichita has a ratio of one shooting death for every 120 officers – a number that is 11 times greater than the national ratio and 12 times greater than the ratio in Chicago.
On the evening of Dec. 28, police responding to an emergency call went to a house where the Finch family lives near McCormick and Seneca. They were dispatched to what was reported as a killing with hostages.
Finch, 28, the innocent victim of the hoax, opened his front door to see why police lights were outside. Police said they commanded him to keep his hands raised, but he reached toward his waistline. When he reached his hands up suddenly, police say, an officer positioned across the street from Finch fired a shot from a rifle. The bullet came from about 40 yards away.
According to experts interviewed by The Eagle, a key question is why one of the officers perceived enough of a threat to shoot when others didn’t. That fact raises the question of whether the shooting meets the “reasonableness” standard used to test whether an officer’s shooting is legally justifiable, they said. But one police consultant said it’s possible that the officer fired because his vantage point put him in the one position to see a threat and act as he thought was necessary at that moment.
Questions also remain about the handling of the hoax call, known as a “swatting.” One expert said that the first possible sign that something was wrong about the call was that it was first made to City Hall’s security desk, not directly to 911. That is a common tactic of swatters trying to hide their identities. Also, the caller described the house he was reportedly in as a one-story home when the house police went to had two levels. If that information had been relayed to the officers, it could have raised a red flag that something was amiss.
Also, the caller was still talking to an emergency dispatcher around the time that Finch was on the porch – without a phone.
Lisa Finch said her family has lived in Wichita for 20 years, and until now, has never felt unsafe.
“Do I have to lock my door and be afraid of the police?” she said. “If the crime involves me, who am I supposed to ask for help? Because I can’t trust the Wichita police. The way they acted that night makes no sense at all.”
Stroth said the biggest issue in Finch’s case is that “in the sanctity of his own home” Finch was shot and killed.
“How is that possible in America?” he said. “In 2017-2018, where you’re shot and killed by a police officer. It’s unconstitutional, it’s unjustified and the Finch family is going to fight for justice ... There needs to be a full, independent investigation with regards to what happened and the officers, as well as the city of Wichita, are liable for the tragedy of what happened on Dec. 28.”
Tyler Barriss – the 25-year-old Los Angeles man accused of making a false report that led to the shooting – has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving a false alarm and interfering with a law enforcement officer. His bond has been set at $500,000.
Stroth said Wichita leadership is trying to pin the shooting on Barriss.
“This case is clearly about the behavior, practices and procedures of the Wichita Police Department,” Stroth said.
In a statement, Wichita City Attorney Jennifer Magana said that the “swatting incident has been investigated by the Wichita Police Department in conjunction with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation.”
The officer’s shooting of Finch remains under review by the District Attorney’s Office, she said.
“City of Wichita and WPD officials have great sympathy for those impacted by the reckless behavior exemplified by ‘swatting’ which created the circumstances which resulted in this death,” Magana said. “The City learned that a lawsuit has been filed less than one month after this incident. After the City is served with the lawsuit, it will be reviewed and an appropriate response filed.”
The fake 911 call, to draw police, allegedly stemmed from a feud during online gaming between two Call of Duty players.
“I don’t know if Andy would feel very good about being known everywhere,” Lisa Finch said about her son’s story becoming national news, “But he would be very glad to know that lives could possibly be saved because of this.”