On the night of December 28, 2017, police killed Andrew Finch, a 28-year old father of two, shortly after appearing outside his home in Wichita, Kansas. They were there in response to a swatting hoax called in over a $1.50 Call of Duty bet Finch wasn’t even involved in. Five years and a long legal battle later, the city has finally agreed to settle with Finch’s family for $5 million, one of the largest settlements in the state’s history.
The settlement was announced last week, and results from a civil lawsuit against the cop who actually pulled the trigger in the country’s first lethal swatting incident. While prosecutors ultimately chose not to bring charges against Wichita Police Officer Justin Rapp, Finch’s family later filed their own lawsuit. Despite Rapp’s claims of qualified immunity, a Federal court allowed the case to move forward. The city is now on the hook to pay the settlement while it reckons with a text message scandal exposing SWAT members making racist comments and jokes about killing people.
SWAT officers only showed up at Finch’s door that night after Tyler Barriss, now known to be an infamous swatter with a history of calling in made-up public safety threats, told them there was a violent hostage situation taking place. Two Call of Duty: WWII players, Casey Viner and Shane Gaskill, got into a fight after wagering $1.50 on a match, and Barriss proceeded to ask Gaskill for his address with the intent of swatting him. Only it wasn’t his address he got. Gaskill purposefully provided the wrong one after egging on Barriss to “please try some shit,” according to court records.
Police then surrounded Finch’s home. Unarmed and reportedly completely unaware of what was going on, he opened the door, and was shot shortly after by Rapp, who said he believed Finch was reaching for a gun. Barriss was eventually sentenced to 20 years in prison. Viner was sentenced to 15 months. Gaskill was put on deferred prosecution. Rapp was not charged at all. Instead, he was later promoted.
Swatting incidents are on the rise
Swatting has become a growing concern in recent years. Twitch streamers frequently have to deal with bogus 911 calls that put their and other people’s lives in danger. The Washington Post reported that as many as four swattings occurred in a single week last summer, with famous streamers relocating over safety concerns and several states moving to make the hoax calls a felony offense. But spreading awareness of the dangers of swatting has also been a way to shift blame and accountability away from police departments that have disturbing track records of shooting people.
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“Mr. Finch’s killing was one of 23 police shootings in the city of Wichita over the preceding five years—none of which were meaningfully investigated or resulted in meaningful discipline for the officers involved,” the MacArthur Justice Center, which helped bring the Finch family’s lawsuit against the city, wrote in a press release last week.
The Wichita Eagle reported that Rapp was promoted in 2022, despite previously telling supervisors within the police department that if he ever ran into Finch’s family at the local Walmart he’d tell them, “I had to shoot your son. I’m over it, and you need to get over it too.” A subsequent investigation by the paper also revealed that several other officers within the department, including on the SWAT team, were involved in a group text that traded racist memes about George Floyd and congratulated one another for “permanently” de-escalating people. Some of the officers involved had also previously shot suspects, according to police records, including at least one suspect who was unarmed.
“I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to the activists who fought for myself and my children for five long years,” Tawny Unruh, the mother of Finch’s two children, said last week. “To the mayor and council who voted in favor of my children, thank you for making sure that my family can move on from this nightmare and begin to heal. We will never forget or understand why our Andy had to die but are grateful for all of the support we’ve received from our community.”