SWATting ‘Prank’ Illustrates Lethal Consequences of Automatically Believing Accusations
Right now there are more questions than answers over last week’s deadly officer-involved shooting that appears to have been precipitated by a fake SWATting call to police. According to news accounts released so far, aside from having the misfortune of living at the address the caller gave police, the unarmed victim had nothing to do with an argument an online gamer had with another after which he made a fake call to police. The cowardly piece of …work… pretended to be a killer who had shot his father, was holding his mother and brother hostage, and was threatening to set the house on fire.
Lost in all this is a fundamental presumption of innocence until proven guilty. No doubt about it, responding officers were primed to expect the worst. But that does not give them license to ignore the reasons they are employed by the public in the first place. And there are contradictions that need to be resolved.
“Due to the actions of a prankster, we have an innocent victim,” Wichita Deputy Police Chief Troy Livingston asserted. But what he said next was calculated to “justify” the decision to shoot an unarmed man he just said was innocent.
“Livingston said officers gave [victim Andrew] Finch several verbal commands to put his hands up. But, Livingston said Finch lowered his hands toward his ‘waist area’ multiple times, eventually leading an officer to fire a shot for fear that Finch had reached for a weapon.”
Did Finch? Do we automatically believe that, just as the fake 911 call was apparently automatically believed? Even though the caller clearly told the dispatcher his house was “one story” and the house at the address clearly has two stories and an attic window? That gave no one on site a clue that all might not be as “reported”?
And have we seen other recordings where a “suspect,” scared out of his wits, was repeatedly screamed at and given contradictory “Simon Says” commands that the soberest among us would have trouble surviving?
Speaking of bodycams, the video released makes it pretty much impossible to tell what happened or if the citizen answering his door was merely too overwhelmed with confusion and fear to understand that he was an instant target for escalation to deadly force. And the department’s case is not helped by its historical resistance to providing such footage for media review – a newspaper has had to sue them over noncompliance with the Kansas Open Records Act.
Author Michael Z. Williamson pulls no punches when he writes “No One Cares If You Go Home Safe at The End of Your Shift.” Read more than the headline – he’s not saying that just to be a smart @$$. He’s walked the walk and has more than a point when he says:
“I … did walk into the Middle East and prepare to take fire while keeping expensive equipment functioning so our shooters could keep shooting. There’s not a single set of orders I got that said my primary job was to ‘Come home safe.’ They said it was to ‘support the mission’ or ‘complete the objective.’ Coming home safe was the ideal outcome, but entirely secondary to ‘supporting’ or ‘completing.’”
Ostensibly people sign up to be peace officers to serve and protect, and swear an oath to the Constitution obliging them to protect the Bill of Rights as much as anything else. The rest of us want to make it home at the end of their shift, too.
And it’s not like this is the first time “SWATting” has come up. I’ve heard of it many times over the years, haven’t you?
Remember the poor guy who got killed because a fraudulent “ex-Marine” saw him handling a pellet gun being sold at WalMart and called it in? Or the Orwellian-named Coalition to Stop Gun Violence putting this bit of SWATting set-up out there for the public to summon the shock troops?
And let’s not forget the SWATting potential of those ubiquitous snitch programs, some that even promise rewards for anonymous tips.
Police have arrested the “alleged” twisted, malevolent and cowardly serial criminal (hardly a mere “prankster”) who set things in motion, and let’s hope that a full due process trial results in severe punishment to the full extent of the law if he’s proven guilty. Over a $1.50 “Call of Duty” bet … and the probable psychopath has shown absolutely no remorse or sense of responsibility.
But that won’t bring back the killed man or relieve his mother’s agony. Nor will it prevent further outrageous future tragedies from being inflicted on other Americans.
So what can be done? Raise police awareness? More training? What about when hesitation proves a fatal mistake?
What’s certain is the worst thing the police could now would be anything that impedes transparency and full accountability. The primary goal, before coming up with any remedial plans, must be to determine the unvarnished truth about what happened and who did what.
For starters, we know the name of the victim and the name of the suspect arrested for making the call. But all too typically, the department appears to be in CYA/limited information-sharing mode. What compelling reasons, aside from liability damage control, are there for withholding the names of all public employees involved, including the shooter (they wouldn’t withhold the name of a “civilian”), and releasing all bodycam recordings, some of which have still, inexplicably been kept under wraps?
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David Codrea’s opinions are his own. See “Who speaks for Oath Keepers?”