Teenage gamer jailed over lethal swatting

An Ohio gamer who got into a spat over a $1.50 wager that led to the death-by-swatting of an innocent man has been sentenced to 15 months in prison, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Friday.

Casey S. Viner, 19, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstructing justice.

Viner admitted to arguing with another gamer – co-defendant Shane Gaskill – while playing Call of Duty World War II online. The two gamers were disputing a $1.50 wager. Apparently, one had accidentally “killed” a teammate in the first-person shooter game.

So, as Viner admitted in his plea agreement, he contacted known swatter Tyler Barriss and asked him to swat Gaskill.

Swatting (or SWATting), which takes its name from elite law enforcement units called SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) teams, is the practice of making a false report to emergency services about shootings, bomb threats, hostage taking, or other alleged violent crime in the hopes that law enforcement will respond to a targeted address with deadly force.

Barriss did as he was asked: he first taunted Gaskill in Twitter direct messages. Gaskill challenged Barriss to go ahead and swat him, according to court records.

But Gaskill then sent Barriss the wrong address: that of a home nearby, at 1033 W. McCormick, in Wichita, Kansas, where he once lived. That misdirection led police to show up at the wrong house – the home of 28-year-old Andrew Finch.

In the recording of the emergency call that cost Finch his life, Barriss told operators that he’d shot his father in the head. He also said that he was holding his mother and a sibling at gunpoint in a closet. Barriss said he’d poured gasoline all over the house and that he was thinking of lighting the place on fire.

Police surrounded Finch’s Wichita home, prepared to deal with a hostage situation. When Finch answered the door, he followed police instructions to put up his hands and move slowly. But at some point, authorities said, Finch appeared to be moving his hand toward his waistband as if he was going to pull out a gun.

A single shot killed Finch. He was dead by the time he reached the hospital. Police said the innocent man – the father of two children – was unarmed.

Finch’s family is now suing the police and the city of Wichita for what they say was his wrongful death.

In March 2019, Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for placing the deadly hoax call. He pleaded guilty to more than 50 felonies nationwide, including federal charges in Kansas of making an interstate hoax that resulted in a death and cyberstalking.

Other swatting incidents connected to Barriss between 2015 and 2017 happened in Ohio, Nevada, Illinois, Indiana, Virginia, Texas, Arizona, Massachusetts, Missouri, Maine, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, Indiana, Michigan, Florida, Connecticut and New York.

Viner’s obstruction of justice charge comes from Viner having tried to erase any record on his phone of his communications with Barriss and Gaskill, according to the DOJ.

After serving his sentence, Viner will be banned from gaming for two years.

In court, Viner reportedly said that he was “awfully sorry”, that he never intended anything to happen, and that he thinks of it every day.

US District Judge Eric Melgren told him that intentions didn’t play into his sentencing:

We impose sentences not only for what people intend, but what happened.

There’s still one party to be prosecuted: Gaskill, the intended victim of the swat who gave Barriss Finch’s address. The DOJ says that the gamer has been placed on deferred prosecution.

US Attorney Stephen McAllister described swatting as “more than foolish”. It’s “reckless, dangerous and, as this case proves, potentially tragic,” he said. He called on gamers to self-police their community to ensure that the practice is ended, “once and for all.”

Swatting is not a prank, and it is no way to resolve disputes among gamers.

Amen to that.