Timeline of the fatal 'swatting' call to Wichita police
Demanding answers to Wichita’s most wrenching police shooting in years, residents berated City Hall and its police department on Tuesday over a “swatting” hoax that left an innocent man dead.
“I’m furious that our Police Department apparently has plenty of military-grade weapons, but is a little short on military-grade discipline, supervision, training, integrity, responsibility, transparency, compassion or mercy,” said Robin Ulmer.
Related stories: Suspect in Wichita swatting case accused of similar call in Canada | Did officer act reasonably when he shot swatting victim is a key legal question | Who should question possible swatting calls: 911, police or both? | Police interviewing others in fatal swatting case, Wichita police chief says | Swatter was still talking to 911 at least 16 minutes after Wichita man was shot
Ulmer, whose remarks drew applause from the audience, was one of three speakers to take advantage of the first opportunity to address the Wichita City Council since the Dec. 28 fatal shooting of Andrew Finch, 28.
Finch was shot on the porch of his home by a police officer during an incident of “swatting” – a hoax designed to provoke a special weapons and tactics (or SWAT) team response to a nonexistent incident.
“This is the kind of thing that makes everybody in the city afraid to even open their door if there are police outside,” said Janice Bradley, an activist with the Peace and Social Justice Center. “It’s a tragedy of errors.”
Bradley and the other speakers at the council meeting said they want a full and public investigation, including the release of the name of the officer who fired the fatal shot. Wichita police policy is to withhold the names of officers involved in shootings.
During the meeting, city spokesman Ken Evans issued a statement briefly addressing the residents’ complaints: “The City of Wichita always values input from the public we serve. We also work hard to balance public safety concerns with due process.”
Mayor Jeff Longwell said he’s urging council members to wait before taking a stance.
“There could be (council action) later, but the reality is we still have an active investigation,” he said. “We don’t want to impede or interfere with that investigation in any way shape or form. And so until that investigation is wrapped up, we’re encouraging all of those involved here at the bench to not comment on it.”
He said he’s deferring to police on withholding the officer’s name.
“That’s a practice that we’ve maintained as long as I’ve been around,” he said. “The police chief has, obviously, the authority to review that practice, and he is still abiding by that same practice as we’ve had for 25 years probably.”
Asked if it’s time to change that, Longwell replied, “I’m not sure.”
A Los Angeles man, Tyler Barriss, 25, is accused of making the bogus call reporting a made-up murder and hostage situation that brought police to Finch’s door. It apparently began with a dare spinning off a dispute over a $1.50 wager in an online game of Call of Duty.
Finch wasn’t part of the game, but apparently, one of the gamers gave Finch’s address to the person who made the swatting call.
Ulmer accused the police of deadly carelessness.
“He was just a young man who went to his front door to see what was going on,” she said. “If numerous officers were yelling at me, I might yell back, ‘What?’ But I really wouldn’t know what they were trying to tell me. I might think they want me to go back in the house.”
And, she asked, “Why did one police officer out of all the ones who showed up and had weapons aimed at him, shoot to kill from across the street?”
Police have said the officer who fired did so because Finch appeared to reach for his waistband and the officer thought he might have been reaching for a gun. Finch was unarmed.
“This swatting thing is no excuse for the behavior of Wichita PD in this case,” Ulmer said. “And then I heard about his family’s side of the story, that his family was forced out of their house barefoot, stepping over Andrew’s body, not able to console him, they were handcuffed, put into police cars and taken into the station, questioned and finally released with no apology, no access to Andrew’s body, to hug and say goodbye.”
“I’m seeing things going on in Wichita that I don’t want to see,” she said.
Activists are planning to have at least a few people speak at every council meeting until they get answers to their questions, mirroring the slow-developing but persistent tactics they recently used to head off a proposed Tyson chicken plant at the Sedgwick County Commission.
Resident Doug Ballard said he doesn’t think the answer to the police issue is “more training, more technology and more money.”
“They don’t make wise, common-sense use of some of the things they already have,” he said.
Bradley criticized laws and policies that allow police to shoot when they have a “reasonable belief” that they or others are in danger.
“This law needs to be changed to require at least a shred of physical evidence to justify that officer’s, quote, ‘reasonable belief,’” Bradley said. “It’s just not enough.”
Council member Brandon Johnson won election as an activist on community issues including police shootings. Tuesday was his first meeting.
“I think today was good,” he said. “I think citizens should continue to come up here and ask questions. That’s the only way that citizens will get answers ... That was what I did before I ran for City Council.”
Johnson said he’s asked staff for information on why the city withholds officers’ names in shooting incidents and how that fits with the Kansas Open Records Act.
“That was one of my first questions about that: What can we do, what can we not do?” he said. “I’ve been an advocate for being as transparent as possible in city government and I’m going to keep pushing for that.”