A California man was sentenced Friday to 20 years in prison for making bogus emergency calls to authorities across the U.S., including one that led police to fatally shoot a Kansas man following a dispute between two online players over a $1.50 bet in the "Call of Duty: WWII" video game. U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren sentenced, 26, under a deal in which he pleaded guilty in November to a total of 51 federal charges related to fake calls and threats.
The 2017 death of 28-year-old Andrew Finch drew national attention to the practice of "swatting," a form of retaliation in which someone reports a false emergency to get authorities, particularly a SWAT team, to descend on an address. Authorities said an Ohio gamer recruited Barriss to "swat" a Wichita gamer, but the address they used was old, leading police to Finch, who was not involved in the video game or the dispute.
Barriss admitted he called Wichita police from Los Angeles on Dec. 28, 2017, to falsely report a shooting and kidnapping at that Wichita address. Finch answered the door, and an officer shot the unarmed man.
Barriss' prosecution in Wichita consolidated other federal cases that had initially been filed against him in California and the District of Columbia involving similar calls and threats he made. Prosecutors had asked for a 25-year sentence, while the defense had sought a 20-year term.
"We hope that this will send a strong message about swatting, which is a juvenile and senseless practice," U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister told reporters after the sentencing. "We'd like to put an end to it within the gaming community and in any other context."
The FBI recognized swatting as an emerging threat as early as 2008, noting it had become commonplace among gamers. The intended target in Wichita, Shane Gaskill, 20, and the man who allegedly recruited Barriss, Casey Viner, 19, of North College Hill, Ohio, were charged as co-conspirators.
Authorities said Viner provided Barriss with an address for Gaskill that Gaskill had previously given to Viner. Authorities also said that when Gaskill noticed Barriss was following him on Twitter, he gave Barriss that old address and taunted him to "try something."
Viner and Gaskill pleaded not guilty to charges including conspiracy to obstruct justice, wire fraud and other counts. Viner has notified the court he intends to change that plea at a hearing scheduled for Wednesday.
Gaskill's trial has been delayed to April 23 amid plea talks with federal prosecutors. Finch's family has sued the city of Wichita and the unidentified officers involved.
Police have said the officer who shot Finch thought he was reaching for a gun because he moved a hand toward his waistband. Prosecutors declined to charge the officer.