The Los Angeles man accused of placing a prank call that resulted in the fatal police shooting of an innocent man in Kansas last week was the target of an ongoing LAPD investigation into similar hoaxes and had a reputation for helping others gain revenge on online enemies, law enforcement officials told The Times.
LAPD detectives were planning to meet soon with federal prosecutors to discuss their investigation into whether Tyler Raj Barriss was responsible for several so-called “swatting” calls and similar hoaxes that drew large police responses in the past year, said Deputy Chief Horace Frank, who oversees the LAPD’s counter-terrorism and special operations bureau. He declined to identify the incidents.
Barriss, 25, was already well known to local law enforcement. Glendale Police Sgt. Daniel Suttles said he was behind at least two dozen fake bomb threats in the area in recent years, including incidents that prompted the evacuations of television stations and an elementary school.
In May 2016, he pleaded no contest to making a false bomb threat and was sentenced to two years and eight months in jail, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. He was released on Jan. 20, 2017. A day later, he was arrested in the San Fernando Valley and spent another seven months in jail before pleading no contest to violating a protective order, according to court and jail records.
“He knows exactly what to say. He is very meticulous,” Suttles said. “He knows what a 911 operator will ask and is convincing.”
Wearing a black hooded sweatshirt and keeping his eyes down, Barriss appeared briefly in a downtown Los Angeles court on Wednesday and announced he would not fight extradition to Kansas. He will be held in Los Angeles without bail until Kansas authorities take him into custody, which should occur in the next few weeks, according to a statement by Sedgwick County Dist. Atty. Marc Bennett.
Barriss is charged with one count of creating a false alarm, which is a felony, in Kansas, court records show.
Wichita authorities said they received a phone call on Dec. 28 from a person who claimed he had fatally shot his father at a home on West McCormick Street in the city. The caller also claimed he was holding his mother and younger brother at gunpoint, and that he had doused the residence in gasoline and planned to set the home ablaze.
A recording of the emergency call released by Wichita police shows that the caller told a dispatcher that he would not put the gun away.
“My dad isn’t breathing,” the caller said at one point. “It’s kind of giving me anxiety and making me, like, paranoid.”
SWAT officers responded and were preparing to approach the home when a man, later identified as 28-year-old Andrew Finch, exited the front door. After a brief exchange, Finch was shot after moving his hands toward his waistband, Wichita police said. He died a short time later.
Sources told the Times that the dispute that led to the call stemmed from an argument over an online matchup in Call Of Duty: World War II, a recently released first-person shooting game.
He knows what a 911 operator will ask and is convincing.
Neither Barris nor Finch were involved in the matchup, according to the sources, who spoke to The Times on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing. The sources said investigators believe that someone involved in the dispute contacted Barriss, who had developed a reputation for “swatting” — placing false emergency calls that prompt police departments to deploy SWAT officers to an address.
“Swatters” typically claim that an armed intruder is inside a home, and the tactic is sometimes used by enemies in the online gaming community.
A spokesman for the Sedgwick County district attorney’s office said he would not release charging documents or discuss the case further until Barriss appears in a Kansas courtroom.
The FBI estimates that roughly 400 cases of swatting occur annually, with some using caller ID “spoofing” to disguise their number. Swatting cases that result in the death of a victim are less common, however.
Finch was unarmed when he was shot, according to Andrew Stroth, a Chicago-based civil rights attorney who is representing the victim’s relatives. Stroth has repeatedly blasted Wichita police for opening fire and failing to recognize the nature of the call.
“Swatting is not new. Prank calling is not new. These officers should be equipped to handle these situations,” he said on Wednesday. “Unfortunately, you have a situation where Andy Finch was unjustifiably shot and killed by the Wichita police officer, and it’s tragic.”
According a timeline released by Wichita police, the caller first contacted a security officer at City Hall, then hung up. The number that appeared came from a local area code, police said.
A Wichita Police spokesman on Wednesday declined to answer questions about the incident. The officer who fired the fatal shot, identified only as a seven-year veteran of the department, has been placed on administrative leave.
In a letter made public Wednesday, Finch’s mother, Lisa, heavily criticized the Wichita Police Department and other city officials, claiming she has not been allowed to claim her son’s body.
“It goes without saying that our family is devastated by what has happened,” she wrote. “What cannot go without saying is why Wichita City leadership is compounding our grief and sorrow by keeping my son from us.”
Neither Barriss nor his public defender spoke with reporters on Wednesday. The 25-year-old only mumbled responses of “yes” or “I did” while being asked to confirm his identity and that he was waiving extradition.