The SWATting Death of Andy Finch

We know what the cops thought. We know because they’re still alive to tell us, and the 911 call that brought them to the house made abundantly clear that they were about to confront a killer who still held hostages. They went in with the idea that there could very well be more death to come, and they surely had no plan of making their wife a widow that night.

What Andrew Finch was thinking is another matter. Police lights outside his home brought him to the door, to look outside to see what was happening. A perfectly normal thing to do, since he couldn’t possibly have a clue why cops were on his street, outside his home. He was a good guy. He had no reason to suspect as he opened the door to his home they were there for him.

“Officers gave him several verbal commands to put his hands up and walk towards them. The male complied for a very short time and then put his hands back down to his waist. The officers continued to give him verbal commands to put his hands up, and he lowered them again.

“The male then turned towards the officers on the east side of the residence, lowered his hands to the waistband again, then suddenly pulled them back up towards those officers at the east.

“The officers on the north side of the street feared the male pulled a weapon from his waistband, retrieved a gun and was in the process of pointing it at the officers to the east. Fearing for those officers’ safety, the officer on the north side fired one round.”

There’s body cam video of the shooting, but the cops were a good distance away from Finch and the video provides little insight. You can hear a cop yell “show your hands, walk this way.” To the cop, who knows why he’s taking charge, his commands make sense. To a good guy, who couldn’t possibly conceive of why a distant cop was yelling at him, it makes no sense.

There is a good chance he wasn’t sure they were yelling at him, and he was looking around to see who else they might be screaming at. The idea that police would command him to “show his hands,” not the clearest phrase to a good guy to begin with, must have seemed absurd. Why would a cop tell him to show his hands? He was in his home, with his family, having an ordinary evening.

Finch was unarmed. He didn’t have any object in his hand that might have been mistaken for a gun, even though there would have been nothing wrong, nothing even unusual, if he had. The cops saw no glint of steel. They weren’t open and exposed, but distant and protected. But the cops had it in their head that he was a killer, and so they saw his every move as a killer’s move.

When the police mindset is that they’re confronting a killer, two things go through their heads. The First Rule of Policing, obviously. But also that this is a man who reduced the value of his own life by his own actions. Killing a killer isn’t the sort of thing that will bring a tear to one’s eye. Some people need killing, and a killer would be that kind of guy. So if it happened that he gave police reason, even slight cause, to take him down, they wouldn’t hesitate. This was a guy who needed killing.

From the police perspective, how would they know it was all a hoax?

A 25-year-old man was arrested in South Los Angeles on Friday night in connection with an alleged “swatting” prank that resulted in a police-involved fatal shooting in Kansas, police said.

Authorities identified the suspect as Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles, KABC-TV reported. They say Barriss is suspected of making a hoax phone call to police in Wichita, Kan., that resulted in the death of an innocent 28-year-old man.

A fight between Call of Duty gamers, apparently over a small bet, started the snowball rolling.

On Twitter, a user whose account has been suspended, claimed credit for making the swatting call, writing “that kids house I swatted is on the news” and later “I DIDNT GET ANYONE KILLED BECAUSE I DIDNT DISCHARGE A WEAPON AND BEING A SWAT MEMBER ISNT MY PROFESSION.” The user who made the call was fighting with another COD player who gave him a fake address — Finch’s — which was how the police wound up at the wrong house. “Someone tried to swat me and got an innocent man killed,” tweeted a user claiming to be the other person involved. The fight between the two users was reportedly over a small bet between $1 and $2, Dexerto reports.

Did Barriss have any grasp of what he set in motion? Like so many online, his actions reflect a disconnect between what a digital idiot considers “lulz” and its real world analogue. His gaming adversary gave a phony address, likely without a thought that it was only phony to him, not to Andy Finch. Did he seriously believe that anyone would be crazy enough to actually call in the SWAT team?

SWATting became very real to law bloggers after it happened to Patterico, Patrick Frey. He survived, but it seemed certain that if this “prank” continued, it would eventually take someone’s life. It took Andy Finch’s life. He left behind two children, ages 7 and 2.

Who knows what Andrew Finch’s wife was thinking about when she woke up that morning? Certainly it wasn’t what suit she would pick out for his funeral, what she would tell her children when they asked why the police killed their daddy. What she would do with the rest of her life now that her husband was dead.

The officer who took down a good guy, unaware of why the police would be yelling at him to show his hands, will suffer regret, probably depression, for having made the decision to pull the trigger. Others will tell him he had no choice, he couldn’t have known that this wasn’t a killer, that if he didn’t shoot, a cop might die.

The officer fired too soon, but that’s a line crossed regularly and with the understanding that as long as he believed there was a possibility of deadly force, however remote, it was his duty to kill. Call of duty.

38 thoughts on “The SWATting Death of Andy Finch

  1. Dan

    You make it sound like this was the first SWATting death–maybe you’ve forgotten about John Crawford? You wrote about that case too.

  2. Hunting Guy

    As a non-lawyer, I’m wondering what Barriss will be charged with and how that will work across state lines.

    1. SHG Post author

      Lawyers will wait until he’s charged to find out rather than waste our time wondering about things that will be answered soon enough.

  3. Grock

    I remember reading about the Patterico SWATing and he and his family are incredibly lucky they didn’t end up like Finch.

    As for those idiots on social media who threaten SWATing over some minor irrelevant issue and then wonder why such threats make me angry . . . . THIS is why. They remind me of a petulant 6 year old who is mad someone threw their ketchup soaked french fries at them at lunch and decides pointing a loaded gun at someone to see if it goes off is appropriate retribution. Sure it is . . . deliberately creating a volatile and dangerous confrontation between law enforcement and innocent citizens for shits and giggles. It’s all fun and games until someone dies right?

    Unfortunately it seems there are still police departments out there that have never heard of SWATing. They need to give some thought to how to spot such hoaxes and come up with a plan of action on how to respond in a way that doesn’t end up taking the life of an innocent bystander. I doubt that will happen any time soon, but I can hope and dream right?

    1. SHG Post author

      Whether they hadn’t heard of SWATting isn’t really the critical question. What if they were at the wrong address? What if the 911 caller was suffering from a psychotic breakdown and delusional, nothing he said being real? There are many variations that could bring the police to the door of someone who did nothing wrong, had no reason to know why they were there, what they were thinking, what might go horribly wrong.

      The police, in this instance, had every opportunity to address what they believed was happening without anyone being harmed, no less killed. But we fetishize good policing, good training, intelligent tactics, as if there is some magic that will end cops killing innocent people once and for all.

      As long as people exist, bad things will happen. We point these things out in the hope that fewer bad things happen than they would otherwise, but we will always be flawed, do something horribly wrong and some poor innocent person will suffer for it.

      1. Liz W

        While it is true that bad things will inevitably happen, American policing is especially prone to this kind of tragedy due to the thoroughly toxic law enforcement culture, and the embarrassing lack of consequences when cops kill people. SWATing occurs in other developed countries (UK, Netherlands), but it’s only the U.S. where anyone can mobilize a crew of violent, cowardly, whack-jobs with a simple phone call.

        1. SHG Post author

          There is much that needs to be changed in police culture and law, as a killing like this (and many others) should never have happened. That said, millions of police interactions occur without anyone being harmed or killed. It’s absurdly hyperbolic to call it “thoroughly toxic.” Nothing is solved by ridiculous hysteria. Get a grip.

      2. Skink

        Good sense, training and tactics are the only tools available, and when weapons are involved, really bad or even unthinkable shit can and does happen. And you’re right, law enforcement should have done better with those tools in this instance. You’re also right that talking about this incident is an important element to hoping it won’t happen again. But it will happen, if only because we are flawed. You, I and everyone else reading this fuck up daily, but no one dies. That’s because our business doesn’t involve bad guys and weapons.

        I take issue with your last paragraph. This is not the regular occurrence. This is the rarity. Cops draw their weapons thousands of times per day, and no one dies. SWAT goes out, and it’s rarer than hen’s teeth that anyone gets hurt. It’s dangerous to call this “regular.” It invites people to make very broad assumptions.

        1. SHG Post author

          Regularly refers to its antecedent, “fired too soon.” It has indeed become “regular” that cops, when they do shoot, will shoot prematurely, before they are sure they are facing a threat of deadly force. I doubt greatly that cops draw their weapons thousands of times a day. Most cops make it to their pension without ever drawing their weapon. And most who do never fire. That’s as it should be.

          [I note, with irony, my reply to LizW above. In the scheme of excess, I don’t come close to scratching the surface.]

          1. Skink

            I’m still not buying. Law enforcement draw weapons thousands of times per day, if only because they have millions of interactions and there are still bad guys. And for the PC, bad girls. Drawing and firing are two different things. A drawn weapon is rarely fired.

            It is also not “regular” that a weapon is fired prematurely. By framing it that way, you’re saying police shootings are more often than not bad shootings. That just isn’t true.

            1. Scott Jacobs

              Per capital, the police kill vastly more people than the average citizen. What’s more, they shoot a LOT of unarmed people. You’re free to buy the “they reached for a weapon” lie, but when the newly dead body doesn’t have a weapon I call bullshit.

              The cops DO shoot too soon. Another second and maybe the guy pulling up his pants wouldn’t be dead, or the guy going for his wallet, or the home owner with the TV remote in his hand, or the guy that walks out of his house to see why all the cops are surrounding it.

              Whether or not most police shootings are justified I can’t say, but I can say that a huge, huge portion of them aren’t necessary.

              You’re welcome to continue felating the police, but I’ll decline to do so.

            2. SHG Post author

              Skink takes issue with “regularly,” by which (if I understand correctly) he means “more often than not.” That’s not what I meant by “regularly,” nor is it the meaning of “regularly.”

              I am not of the view that most police shooting are premature. I am of the view that they happen regularly. And regularly is wholly unacceptable, even if most shootings are not premature.

            3. Ronald aerts

              I looked up the meaning of regularly that you provided and I have no qualms saying I did not understand it that way. It is always delightful when I came across a writer who knows how to use words accurately.

  4. Ahaz

    Another innocent man dies. It will be ruled justified all because police failed to take the time to actually see what was reported was actually true. John Crawford was mentioned earlier because there are direct parallels. Police were responding to an unsubstanciated call and in Crawford’s case, he was shot upon sight. Both 911 calls were incorrect. Officers immediately assumed the worst and adopted the mindset that danger and death was immediate. Both failed to adequately investigate if danger actually existed. And both adopted the mindset that any movement, however innocuous would be considered a deadly threat. Both resulted in dead innocent citizens and the justice machinery will undoubtedly blame the Swatters instead of focusing on the poor tactics that were implemented. Frankly, I’m tired on this scenario being played out repeatedly in this country. Police heading into a situation, reacting instead of thinking, rushing instead of slowing down and the blaming the victim for their own deaths. After all police are the only ones that deserve to go home at the end of the day.

    1. SHG Post author

      You will find some common threads throughout a great many innocent people killed by cops. You will also find significant differences. The ability to distinguish between the two, and understand why one size does not fit all, matters.

  5. Nemo

    Police culture, including training, tactics, and the mutual support given to those officers who kill, will not change over this, or any other killing such as this. The police want to go home safe, and in their view, when they draw their weapons, it’s because they are confronting a bad guy. A sufficiency of voters agrees with this view, because they are on the good guy curve, too. They cannot imagine that this could happen to them or their loved ones, because they are all good guys, and the cops protect good guys.

    When the police kill an unarmed citizen, well, it happens. When a cop is killed, it’s a tragedy, worthy of processionals of their colleagues and heightened security for their funeral. It’s a war out there on the mean streets of quiet suburbs, so nothing will change. At least, not for the better. To paraphrase Mr. Wonka, it has to get worse before it can get better – if it gets better at all.

    Captain Obvious, signing off.

  6. kemn

    I keep thinking that we all lost when “Protect and Serve” changed to the First Rule of Policing.

    It’s depressing and I don’t know a good way to change it.

    Training doesn’t help. It’s a cultural thing. Maybe enforcing the laws on those cops who pull the trigger, and revisit the “reasonably scared cop” rule.

    1. SHG Post author

      The First Rule was always the First Rule. The difference is that it’s now invoked a few steps earlier than before, and that’s a cop culture problem more than anything else. Much as the law needs to be changed, every cop knows the mantra, “better to be judged by 12 than carried by six.”

      1. kemn

        So, the cop who did this needs to be arrested and judged by 12…

        Instead, he’ll probably never face a trial, as the DA will simply rule it “justified”, or “lack of evidence”, and continue to take out his “wrath” on the guy who called the police in the first place.

        Police who do this need to actually face the jury and not be able to hide behind the “reasonably scared cop” rule.

        1. SHG Post author

          Under the current state of the law, this isn’t a very hard call. But even if the state of the law was different, and there was no Reasonably Scare Cop Rule, would he have not fired anyway? Culpability is on the back end. The decision to pull the trigger too soon has nothing to do with liability or culpability, but with perceived survival.

          The goal is to stop cops from killing people needlessly, not with prosecuting them or getting damages afterward.

          1. kemn

            Agreed. However, my hope is that enough cops start getting prosecuted for this, they will stop shooting first.

            You’re right, though…the attitudes need to change, so that cops stop thinking about going home at the end of the day, and start thinking about what’s the right thing to do…even if some of them don’t make it home.

            It’s odd. Our justice system is supposed to err on the side of innocence, but I guess that’s a different story as to why that whole chain isn’t what it used to be either.

  7. tk

    About 30 years ago, I was the target of a similar “swatting” call. We lived in the small town of Raritan, New Jersey, in a big old Victorian on the Raritan River. It was a few days before Christmas, and my wife and I and my 12-year-old stepson were horsing around in the front room, laughing and yelling, with our big German Shepherd, who was barking and jumping along with the rest of us. There was a pounding at the door, and I opened it to find four members of the town PD, obviously scared, guns at the ready. Someone had called in a hostage situation at our address. To cut to the chase, I invited everyone inside and made a pot of coffee. After interviewing my wife and stepson separately for some time, and making a bunch of calls, we all shook hands and said goodbye. They didn’t even shoot our dog, who got really pissed and tried to bite one of the cops.

    So several decades later I’m a firearms instructor who has trained a fair share of police and civilians alike. And I know well both how poorly most cops are trained, and the vicious strains of militarism and paranoia that run through some departments. I realize how easily things could have gone sideways, except for the fact that those scared, poorly trained, small-town cops behaved with respect and restraint.

    Respect and restraint: That would change the narrative of many of these cases.

    BTW: Great blog.

    1. SHG Post author

      Respect and restraint. Law, training and militarism are all pieces of the puzzle, but the culture of respect and restraint is at its heart.

  8. NickM

    An officer I know in a rich, low-crime suburban city was called out a couple months ago on a “man with a gun in a public park” 911 call, to which the city’s SWAT team was mobilized. Their police department is flush with the latest tech toys, thanks to a couple major asset forfeiture cases (it helps when a M.D. engaged in insurance fraud has his home and an office in your city).
    They sent out a surveillance drone over the park before they got there. They found the guy on a drone camera – he was standing on a hilltop holding something that could look like a gun to a casual observer from a distance. But from the air, it was easy to tell that it was a drone controller. The guy was flying his own drone.
    They de-escalated the situation. Officers did go out to talk to the guy and see if he was violating any laws or ordinances. He apparently got a citation for something.
    Anecdotes aren’t data, but I do think it’s important to remember that technology can be used for good or bad purposes – especially something like surveillance technology. The same things that help police invade privacy can also help them sort out dangerous from normal situations.

    1. SHG Post author

      I don’t think anybody questions whether tech (or tactics, or weapons) can be used for good as well as bad. The trick is doing so.

  9. MonitorsMost

    I think we should consider being 100% naked all the time. We got to get past this waistband of reasonable doubt.

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