January 11, 2023
By POL Editor Rachel Scofield
On December 26 at 4:30 pm, a man allegedly called the Pickerington Police Department (PPD) to report that he had shot his mother twice in the head and he believed she had died. The man told the dispatcher that he had barricaded himself in the basement of his Gray Drive home and that he would “shoot anyone that comes to the house”.
According to police reports, units from both the PPD and the Fairfield County Sheriff’s Office arrived at the scene and “set up a perimeter around the house to ensure the male did not escape the residence”.
Officer Kareem Jackson tried to contact the suspect using the telephone number from which the suspect had called dispatch. The phone rang, then went to voicemail. No voicemail had been enabled, so Officer Jackson could not leave a message.
Next, Officer Jackson tried speaking to the suspect using a personal address system (PA), referring to the man using the last name that the department had on file for the address. The police heard no response, nor initially saw any movement.
As they waited for reinforcements, including the Fairfield County SWAT team, an officer saw the front door open then close three times. Returning to his PA, Officer Jackson instructed the occupants to come out with their hands up. A man and two women exited the home as instructed.
According to Officer Jackson’s report, “The occupants of the home were visibly upset and stated multiple times that they did nothing wrong. I stated to the occupants that I would explain everything once we considered there was no threat. I asked how many more people were inside the residence. The male stated that his wife and three children were inside the home.”
Once the officers safely evacuated the remaining family members, a sweep of the home turned up no threat.
“After talking it over with dispatch and other units it was determined that we were the victim of a ‘swatting’ call,” Officer Jackson reported.
Fairfield County Sheriff Alex Lape explained that “swatting” is a term that has been assigned to the incident of making a false report to law enforcement with the intent to cause alarm or panic.
“Usually, it is some type of critical incident like a school threat or a hostage barricade situation,” Lape said.
The call to Gray Drive was the PPD’s second swatting incident of the day. At 2:26 pm, a similar threat was called in regarding a house on Sycamore Creek Street. No victim nor evidence of any crime was discovered at either scene. Both houses were recently listed as for sale.
“We do not have a specific suspect yet and no arrests have been made,” Pickerington Police Chief Tod Cheney said. “But our detectives are actively working the cases and are coordinating with other jurisdictions that have had similar incidents.”
On January 2, Governor Mike DeWine signed into law House Bill 462 which decrees swatting to be a fourth-degree felony, punishable by a minimum six-month prison stay and fines up to $5,000.
Additionally, judges can also order the offender to financially reimburse the emergency responders for expenses incurred as a result of the hoax.
If the swatting resulted in a person suffering “serious, physical harm”, the charge is elevated to a second-degree felony, punishable by a minimum two-year prison stay and fines up to $15,000.
Luckily, everyone escaped the incident on Gray Drive without injury, but in 2017 a man in Kansas lost his life in a similar hoax.
A caller referring to himself as Brian (later identified as Tyler Barriss) told the Wichita Police that he had shot his father and was holding his brother and mother at gunpoint. He warned that if anyone approached, he would light the house on fire.
The police responded to the address Barriss had supplied, which was home to 28-year-old Andrew Finch. Seeing the lights, Finch opened the door to see what was happening.
When he stepped outside, police asked Finch to raise his hands, but when he hesitated partway officer Justin Rapp construed the hesitation as a threat, shot and killed Finch.
Barriss was found guilty of manslaughter. Rapp was never charged.
Ohio Rep. Kevin Miller, who introduced the new law to the Ohio House, said that the FBI reports more than 400 swatting incidents happen nationwide annually.
“We have recently seen a rise in several swatting incidents occurring in our schools around the state,” Miller said. “In fact, just a few months ago, at Licking Valley School District, in my district, they had a swatting incident.”
Fairfield County has not seen an increase.
“Over the past 10 years we have experienced three or four incidents classified as ‘Swatting’,” Lape said. “We have learned a lot over the years relative to how we oversee these types of incidents.”
The idea for the new legislation originally came from Attorney General Dave Yost, who approached Miller and former State Rep. Rick Carfagna and asked that they carry it through the General Assembly.
“I was motivated to accept the request because as the Post Commander of the Granville Patrol Post I personally responded with my troopers to a swatting incident at Denison University in 2014,” Miller said. “A caller advised he was coming to the campus with an assault weapon. We responded along with the Sheriff’s office at the request of the Granville Police Department. The university and local schools were locked down as a result. To my knowledge, the caller was never located but the waste of resources and emotional toll on the entire community from the students and residents to the officers standing guard with rifles was significant.”
Miller wants people to understand that these calls are not harmless pranks.
“Swatting involves purposefully making a false claim to get law enforcement to respond to a location despite there being no real emergency, essentially using law enforcement as a weapon,” Miller said.
In the case of the Wichita incident, the swatting was a targeted attack on an individual after an argument over an online video game. The intended victim had given his old address, which led to Finch being killed.
Lape said that people make the calls “to create chaos and panic or to harass law enforcement and/or particular individuals who reside at the purported incident location. We as an agency take these incidents very seriously,” Lape said. “We have a great success record in determining the persons responsible for these events and will investigate and prosecute them.”
Incidents in Fairfield County have been tracked back to the United Kingdom. With aid from the FBI and Interpol, the suspects were arrested and charged there.
“In my opinion, it is a form of terrorism,” Lape said. “It pulls resources (personnel and equipment) away from where they could necessarily be needed in a true emergency. There is a financial cost associated with these incidents as well. It creates fear, panic and unrest in communities.”
Cheney concurred with Lape, and he also expressed support of the state’s adoption of higher penalties.
“These are extremely serious and dangerous situations that also take officers away from other calls – including possible emergency calls,” Cheney said. “I encourage anyone that knows someone who has done or is talking about doing these types of incidents to report it immediately. Anyone can be a victim of these random crimes.”