Federal charges filed in ‘swatting’ case
A federal grand jury has indicted the man accused in Wichita's fatal swatting as well as the two gamers involved in the video game dispute that prompted the false emergency call.
The 29-page indictment was unsealed Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. It charges 25-year-old Tyler Barriss, who is facing state court charges including involuntary manslaughter, with false information and hoaxes, cyberstalking, threatening to kill another or damage property by fire, interstate threats, conspiracy and several counts of wire fraud, according to federal court records.
One of the gamers — 18-year-old Casey S. Viner of North College Hill, Ohio — is charged with several counts of wire fraud, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The other gamer — 19-year-old Shane M. Gaskill of Wichita — is charged with several counts of obstruction of justice, wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
The charges are connected to the Dec. 28 fatal shooting of 28-year-old Wichitan Andrew Finch. Police went to Finch's Wichita home, at 1033 W. McCormick, after receiving an emergency call about a murder and hostage situation at the address. Wichita police Officer Justin Rapp fired one shot at Finch from a rifle after Finch stepped out onto his front porch.
Police have said Finch didn't comply with law enforcement commands. He wasn't armed, didn't play video games and was not involved in the gaming dispute.
Online gamers in December said a feud over an accidental, virtual "killing" of a character in a Call of Duty World War II game with a $1.50 wager led the fatal swatting call.
Gaskill was in Kansas when he was playing the game Dec. 28, according to the indictment. Viner was in Ohio.
Swatting is when someone makes a false emergency report to draw a large number of law enforcement officers to an address. Often the calls involve bomb threats, reports of hostage situations or murders.
'I'll be waiting'
According to the indictment, which was filed Tuesday under seal, "Viner became upset by events that occurred during the games, events that he blamed on ... Gaskill." The men "argued via electronic communications" and Viner continued to be upset.
Viner then contacted Barriss, a known swatter, "through electronic communications and asked ... Barriss to 'swat' " Gaskill at an address that Gaskill previously gave to him.
That address was 1033 W. McCormick - where Finch lived with his family. It was not Gaskill's true address, the indictment says.
Barriss then followed Gaskill on Twitter, "researching and verifying that the address provided by ... Viner was, in fact, the address for a residence," the indictment says. Barriss also found a phone number for the Wichita Police Department.
When Gaskill saw that Barriss had followed him on Twitter, Gaskill started communicating with him through direct messages, starting at about 5:51 p.m. Dec. 28, according to the indictment.
Messages that Gaskill sent Barriss during the exchange included:
"Please try some s---"
"I'll be waiting"
"1033 w McCormick st Wichita Kansas 67217"
"You're gonna try and swat me its hilarious"
He also provided a Social Security number.
Barriss' responses included questions about Gaskill's age and the validity of the Social Security number.
About 20 minutes after the conversation started, Barriss "began a series of calls to the Wichita Police Department (WPD)'s downtown security desk in Wichita" from Los Angeles, Calif. He disguised his identity so it appeared that the calls were being made from a phone number local to Wichita.
The police department's security desk, which is located in Wichita City Hall, was able to transfer one call to 911 dispatchers.
Barriss then told the dispatcher that his name was Brian, that he'd shot his father in the head and was holding people hostage, that he had poured gasoline in the house and was thinking about lighting it on fire before killing himself.
Finch was shot at approximately 6:28 p.m. Dec. 28.
When Gaskill and Barriss exchanged messages again about an hour and half after the shooting, Gaskill told Barriss that he'd given him his old address.
After news reports of Finch's shooting surfaced, Gaskill sent Barriss messages on Twitter that said:
"Need to delete everything"
"This is a murder case now"
"Casey deleted everything"
"You need 2 as well"
A forensic examination of Viner's cellphone turned up messages where Viner told another person that he'd threatened Gaskill with a swatting before Finch's shooting, according to the indictment.
Some outgoing messages sent from Viner to an unknown person on Dec. 29 were deleted, according to the indictment.
One of the deleted messages said "I was involved in someone's death."
Another said that Viner told Gaskill "you're getting swatted ... I then gave the guy his address."
Barriss' charges most serious
The federal charges against the trio were made public a day after Barriss appeared in Sedgwick County District Court for a hearing where a judge found there was evidence to try him for involuntary manslaughter in Finch's killing.
During that hearing, witnesses testified that Barriss used a cellphone connected to WiFi at a public library in South Los Angeles to make the false emergency calls to Wichita because he didn't have cell service on his phone. Because he used WiFi, authorities were able to trace the call to that spot and capture Barriss. He was arrested in Los Angeles on Dec. 29.
Rapp, the officer who fired the fatal shot, will not faces charges in Finch's death, Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennett announced last month. Rapp testified at Barriss' hearing Tuesday that he never considered that the 911 call could be fake.
He also testified that he didn't see anything in Finch's hands when he shot at him. Initially, Rapp told investigators he believed he saw a gun, according to a report released by Bennett's office in April.
U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister, in an afternoon news conference Wednesday, said the key message is that causing police to respond to a hoax call that can lead to tragedy “is not a joke or a prank. It is a federal crime, and it puts peoples’ lives at risk.”
He noted that one of the charges — false information and hoaxes resulting in a death, with which Barriss is charged — can bring a life sentence.
Barriss is facing the most serious charges of the three men, McAllister said.
The federal charges won’t interfere with the local charges against Barriss, McAllister said, because the offenses alleged on the federal and state level involve different crimes. Prosecutors have been working together since the beginning, McAllister said.
He called them “complementary prosecutions."
McAllister explained that interstate activity involving communications across state lines is part of the federal crimes alleged.
Bennett, the Sedgwick County District Attorney, also was at the news conference. He said that the other two defendants besides Barriss also could face state charges, but that with the interstate involvement, federal charges made more sense.
The communications between the three defendants involved Twitter chatter and other conversations that was monitored by others in the gaming community, McAllister said.
The wire fraud charge involved using wire services to cause a loss incurred by Sedgwick County emergency staff and Wichita police in their response to the emergency call.
Gaskill and Viner are scheduled for an initial appearance in federal court on their charges on June 13, according to court records. It was unclear from the record when Barriss might make his initial appearance.
Asked whether Barriss could face charges in other places around the nation, McAllister said, “Watch the news. But we’re doing what we can do for the District of Kansas.”
Barriss used a number of Twitter handles and was known as a “guy who would swat people” in gaming community, McAllister said. He's suspected of several similar hoaxes in the U.S. and in Canada.
Barriss has previously told The Eagle that people would pay him to make swatting calls. He refused to tell The Eagle how much he would make.