The family of a man fatally shot by a SWAT officer after a prank phone call has filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Wichita, Kansas and its police department.
Andrew Finch, 28, was shot and killed in December – a victim of what is known as “swatting,” or the making of a false police report, usually of an urgent or violent crime, with the intention of luring law enforcement or SWAT to an address.
Responding to a false report of a domestic shooting and hostage situation, allegedly by a man in California, police arrived and fatally shot Finch after he opened the front door of his family’s home in Wichita on December 28.
“At every level, the leadership of the city of Wichita failed,” said Andrew Stroth, an attorney for Finch’s mother, on Tuesday. “This is not about money, This is about reforming the Wichita Police Department and the Wichita leadership taking accountability of a police department that has a history of excessive force.”
Tyler Barriss, the 25-year-old man accused of initiating the “swatting” call, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm and interference with a law enforcement officer. A judge has set his bond at $500,000.
But, the lawsuit filed Monday in US District Court in Kansas on behalf of Finch’s mother, Lisa, alleges the officers who responded to the home after the prank call were inadequately trained and used excessive force.
“The loss of Andy has affected us in every single way possible, and it will affect us the rest of our lives,” Lisa Finch told reporters Tuesday, describing her son as a devoted family man.
City Attorney Jennifer Magana said the city and police will have an appropriate response to the lawsuit once they have been served with it.
A statement from Magana said “the City of Wichita and WPD officials have great sympathy for those impacted by the reckless behavior exemplified by ‘swatting’ which created the circumstances which resulted in this death.”
The swatting incident that led to Andrew Finch’s death is under investigation by the Wichita police and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Magna said. In turn, their investigation is under review by the Sedgwick County district attorney. The Wichita police is conducting an internal review, as well.
The lawsuit also claims the number of police shootings in Wichita is “disproportionately large” for a city of its size, with a ratio of 1 shooting death for every 120 officers – or 11 times greater than the nation’s.
Wichita has exonerated officers in the 29 officer-involved shootings since 2010, determining them “reasonable and justifiable,” according to the lawsuit. The shootings have resulted in 15 deaths, it said.
“This is a real possibility that it could have happened to your child or your relative,” Lisa said.
It appears Finch’s death began with a prank stemming from an online multiplayer session of the video game “Call of Duty: WWII.”
One member of the gaming community told CNN a gamer asked Barriss to swat another after an argument during a “Call of Duty” match. The source did not want to give his name for fear of reprisal from the gaming community.
One officer fired his weapon when Finch moved his hands to his waistline, said Wichita police Deputy Chief Troy Livingston.
It remains unclear why Finch’s address was the one provided to police. Finch didn’t even play video games, according to his family.
The lawsuit said, after Finch was struck by a single bullet fired by a police sniper 50 yards away from his front door, officers forced Lisa, a niece and two friends from the home into handcuffs and held them for about an hour in 24-degree weather before taking them to police headquarters.