When 25-year-old Tyler Barriss called the cops to falsely report a violent crime in progress, he made that call over a $1.50 bet on the Call of Duty video game which had been made between two gamers and resulted in the death of 28-year-old Andrew Finch. At the time, Barriss had no idea just how illegal and problematic that call was, and he needed to face justice for it.
When Barriss told the 911 dispatcher that he had shot and killed his father and was holding his mother and brother hostage, planning to set fire to the house, the story sounded legitimate enough to the person on the other end of the phone. What transpired was a shock for everyone concerned.
Swatting in this context is defined as a harassment tactic carried out by deceiving emergency services into sending cops or an emergency response team of some description to another person’s house. The practice is both dangerous for obvious reasons and highly illegal, but when Barriss was asked to make a call over a $1.50 video game bet, that’s exactly what he did.
This wasn’t the first time Barriss found himself involved with the police and for all the wrong reasons. Barriss, who goes by the screen name “SWAuTistic” was homeless and living on the streets of Los Angeles. He had a criminal record for domestic violence and had already served 16 months in an LA County Jail for making false bomb threats against an elementary school and a middle school in Granada Hills.
Barriss was also wanted by police in Panama City, Florida, for making 30 other hoax bomb threat calls, including one to a high school. He was also sought by Canadian police for harassing a woman in Calgary and for fraud charges. When he made hoax bomb calls to the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Barriss became even more wanted by law enforcement.
The whole argument started on a website called UMG Gaming which operates online tournaments for games like Call of Duty. Two men, Casey Viner (known as Baperizer) and Shane Gaskill (known as Miruhcle), fought over friendly fire in a Call of Duty: WWII match. Having lost their $1.50 wagers, the two men took to Twitter to argue about the loss. Viner threatened to swat Gaskill over the buck and a half and then contacted Barriss and gave him Gaskill’s address.
To make matters even more tragic, Barriss made an error when it came to Gaskill’s address, instead, sending police to Andrew Finch’s home by accident. Using voice over IP through free wifi, Barriss called the Wichita police department with his hoax story. Calling himself Brian, Barriss claimed he was at a home on West McCormick Street, where he had shot his father and was about to set his house on fire.
Barriss had the address wrong, and police were soon sent to the address he had given the dispatcher. They surrounded Finch’s home and as Andrew had heard a commotion outside he opened the door “because he heard something,” according to a Wichita Eagle report. It was at that point that attending officers shot and killed Finch at his front door, assuming that he was reaching for a weapon in his waistband.
Neighbors, as well as people from the local community, were understandably shocked by the incident. That a person could make up a story to a 911 dispatcher and that an innocent man could be shot to death on his doorstep was just one step too far for many people. Residents even attended a city council meeting soon after the shooting to express their outrage over the matter.
As the police department tried to explain away the shooting of Andrew Finch in cold blood, council members assured residents that new measure would be put in place to avoid such incidents in the future. A week after the shooting and Lisa Finch, the dead man’s mother, wrote to the Wichita mayor and police chief stating that she doesn’t know where they’re keeping her son’s body and she wants to give him a “proper funeral service and burial.”
In the letter, the bereaved mother implored the mayor, asking him, “Please let me see my son’s lifeless body.” In the same letter, she also asked why the cop who killed her son hadn’t been identified and also wanted to know when her son’s belongings would be returned to her. The family’s attorney, Andrew M. Stroth, also called on the city and the police to be held liable “for the unjustified shooting of Andrew Finch.”
It didn’t take long for law enforcement to arrest Barriss on a host of charges. He was charged with a felony known as “false alarm” soon after he was arrested and taken into custody. Earlier this year, Barriss was extradited to Kansas where he was charged with involuntary manslaughter. He is still being held at the Sedgwick County Jail pending his court case.
For their part in the debacle, both Viner and Gaskill were also arraigned on multiple charges. Viner was charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to make false/hoax reports, obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. While Gaskill was charged with obstruction of justice, wire fraud and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Barriss also faces charges for hoaxes, cyberstalking resulting in death, making threats of death or damage to property by fire, interstate threats, conspiracy to make false reports, and wire fraud.
The cops threw the book at Barriss and for good reason. He pleaded guilty to almost all of the 51 federal charges against him while US Attorney Stephen McAllister will recommend a sentence of 20 years’ incarceration for the crimes. As part of a plea agreement, Barriss will also need to formally apologize to the Finch family and pay them $10,000 in fines and restitution. The House of Representatives even enacted a bill called the Andrew T. Finch Memorial Act of 2018, introduced by Rep. Ron Estes.
To try and stop this kind of incident from occurring in the future, the bill has been dubbed the Preventing Swatting and Protecting Our Communities Act of 2018, stiffens the punishment for people involved in Swatting. They would see up to 20 years behind bars for that crime, and life in prison if their actions result in a fatality.
US Attorney Stephen McAllister spoke to reporters outside the federal courthouse in downtown Wichita. He said that he believes his office had secured a “strong deal” with Barriss in exchange for his guilty pleas. Those pleas will see him behind bars for “a significant amount of time” and bring some closure for the Finch family.
While Barriss’ attorney Rich Federico didn’t offer an official statement to reporters he did note that his client “is accepting full responsibility for his conduct.” At the same time, McAllister is “comfortable with the end result,” noting that he will be recommending that Barriss be put in jail for at least 20 years. But that all depends on Barriss writing apology letters expressing his remorse to the Finch family and the police.
If for whatever reason, Barriss refuses to write those letters, he will be incarcerated for a longer period according to the plea deal. Prosecutors are going for between 20 and 25 years for the suspect, bearing in mind his checkered criminal past and history of making fake calls for bomb threats. The plea agreement also makes provisions for Barriss to be supervised for five years after he leaves prison.
While the suspect appeared calm throughout the court proceedings, he wore an orange jumpsuit with the words “Harvey County Jail” stamped in black on the back. He sat alone at a table in the courtroom before the trial, chatting afterward with his lawyer as he glanced through court documents. When asked to confirm that he was Tyler R. Barriss, he replied, “Yes, I am.”
After confirming his age and some other details, Barriss told the court that he had been treating his anxiety and depression with prescription drugs but confirmed that the medication did not affect his ability to understand and take part in the court proceedings. He told the judge that he had suffered from attention deficit disorder since his teens and had taken a drug called Adderall XR to treat it. When he was asked by Judge Melgren whether he was pleading guilty or not guilty he said “guilty.”
Barriss’ case is a complicated one, mainly because he is facing charges across three separate federal jurisdictions; Kansas, California and Washington D.C. He also faces charges for Finch’s death in state court, including a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He also admitted to 46 counts of swattings that he had committed while living in Los Angeles County.
Not Going Away
A few months after the shooting of Andrew Finch, his mother Lisa spoke at an additional City Council meeting where she criticized the police response which led to the killing of her son. “The issue of my innocent son being shot through the screen door is not going away any time soon,” Finch said during a five-minute speech she made. She requested a completely independent investigation into the event that claimed her son’s life, confirming she is considering filing criminal charges against the officer who shot her son.
“How is it remotely justice when the wrongdoers are investigating themselves?” Finch asked. “If this were an actual investigation, why hasn’t anyone come to talk to us (family witnesses)? How is it justice when no city official or politician is willing to hold (the officer who fired the shot) accountable?” she asked. She also tied her statements to the council’s weekly ritual of pledging allegiance to the flag.
Finch mentioned the Pledge of Allegiance, asking council members to explain their purpose for reciting it. “You guys have the audacity to recite the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “Could you explain the purpose of this? God is one of the words of the pledge. How can you pledge to do anything about God at all if you’re not willing to come forward and do the right thing?”
Justice for All
After Finch lambasted some council members for paying more attention to their phones than to her during her speech, she raised a point about justice not being served properly in this case. “Another few words at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance are ‘justice for all,'” she said. “Does that mean only those on your side are allowed justice?”
The Right Thing
Lisa Finch went on to encourage the council members to “do the right thing” by her and her dead son, claiming that all she wants is to see some justice for Andrew. “I have in no way seen justice for my son Andrew Finch. One way or another, you will eventually have to deal with this. Why not do the right thing and give justice to my son?” The case continues pending sentencing.