Wichita police owe public a fuller explanation in shooting of unarmed man

Police release the 911 call that led to the deadly 'swatting'

A 911 caller told police he was holding his mother and little brother hostage in a house in the 1000 block of McCormick. Listen to the 911 call that led to the deadly "swatting" in Wichita. (Video by Candi Bolden)
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A 911 caller told police he was holding his mother and little brother hostage in a house in the 1000 block of McCormick. Listen to the 911 call that led to the deadly "swatting" in Wichita. (Video by Candi Bolden)

Andrew Finch shouldn’t have died five days ago. That’s one of the few things clear after a swatting incident that led to a Wichita police officer killing an unarmed Finch on the porch of his west Wichita home.

Depending on your view, and if what we heard about the swatting call proves true, as many as four people could be blamed for Finch’s death: The online gamer who gave an incorrect address (Finch’s) for another gamer to another man and asked him to swat it by calling Wichita police. The second man, arrested by Los Angeles police and identified as Tyler Barriss, who made the fake killing and hostage situation call. The Wichita officer who fired once, killing an unarmed Finch. And, police reason, Finch himself for lowering his hands to his waist despite instructions from officers to keep them raised.

There are multiple pieces to this tragic shooting, many so hard to believe they could be combined into a perfect storm that led to Finch’s death.

But while it is certain that police were led to Finch’s house on West McCormick because of a fake distress call – those involved with the fake call should be criminally accountable – the fact remains that Wichita police killed an unarmed man. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation should thoroughly investigate whether the shooting was reasonable under Kansas law.

In news briefings on the shooting, Wichita deputy chief Troy Livingston has stressed that officers were sent to a house thinking that a man was inside who had already killed a family member and was holding other family members hostage. With police surrounding the house, a man opened the front door.

Livingston said the man (Finch) initially complied with an order to keep his hands raised, but later lowered his hands to his waist before raising them again. Finch turned toward officers to his right, lowered his hands to his waistband before raising them again. That’s when an officer fired, Livingston said, thinking the man had grabbed a weapon from his waistband and was a threat to other officers.

The police briefings have left two questions that could help shed light on what’s become a case with national awareness.

First, why was only one shot fired from one officer? Livingston has not said how many officers were in or around Finch’s front yard at the time of the shooting, but if Finch lowered his hands to his waist before raising them again, why did only one officer shoot Finch? Did others closer to Finch instruct the officer to shoot?

Officers had to assume that he was the suspect who had told a 911 operator he had killed his father and had still had a weapon. Was the officer designated to shoot the suspect if needed, or was it obvious to other officers that Finch did not have a weapon? Police have not explained.

Second, why was video footage from one body camera released to the public last week but not others?

The few seconds of footage, Livingston said, was from an officer’s camera across the street from Finch’s home, near the officer who fired the shot. The footage doesn’t provide a clear view of what Finch did with his arms. Footage from officers closer to Finch would provide a better view. But those weren’t released.

“I want to point out that we believe there’s a compelling reason to release some of this video and some of the audio because it’s in the public’s best interest,” Livingston said in a statement Friday. “The Wichita Police Department wants to maintain and continue to build trust within our community, however we cannot release all the information simply because we have an ongoing criminal investigation into the person or persons responsible for making this false police call.”

Actually, the public’s best interest would be to see all angles of video. And other video can’t be released because of an ongoing investigation into the people making the call? People who weren’t at the home or part of the shooting? Wichita police again are hiding behind loose exceptions in the Kansas Open Records Act. They shouldn’t wait to release more video to the public so it can see for itself – the public’s best interest.

The entire incident has shaken the community. It’s stunning to think something as inconsequential as an online video game can lead to an argument and a fake 911 call, sending police to the home of an innocent and unsuspecting family.

But as investigations continue, it’s important to remember it was an unarmed man who was shot and killed last week. KBI agents need to present the public and a shaken family with a clear picture of what happened on West McCormick last Thursday.

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