A federal grand jury indicted two men whose argument over a game of “Call of Duty: WWII” led to a swatting and fatal shooting last year in Wichita, Kan.
According to a 29-page indictment unsealed on Wednesday in U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas, Casey Viner, 18, of North College Hill, Ohio, faces charges of wire fraud, conspiracy to make a false report, obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Shane Gaskill, 19, of Wichita, faces charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and wire fraud. Tyler Barriss, 25, of Los Angeles, who has already been charged at the state level for manslaughter in connection with the phony 911 call police say he made, faces federal charges of making a false reports to emergency services, cyberstalking, making interstate threats, making interstate threats to harm by fire, wire fraud, and conspiracy to make false reports.
The charges, in part, stem from allegations that the two players, after realizing that a fatal shooting had occurred, talked about deleting their messages and other conversations to hide their involvement. Viner, according to the indictment, wiped and factory-reset his iPhone.
If convicted, the defendants face the following penalties, according to the United States Attorney’s Office:
- Making a false/hoax report to emergency services resulting in death of another: Up to life in federal prison and a fine up to $250,000.
- Cyberstalking resulting in death of another: Up to life and a fine up to $250,000.
- Threatening to kill a person or damage property by fire: Up to 10 years and a fine up to $250,000.
- Making a threat in interstate communications: Up to five years and a fine up to $250,000.
- Wire fraud: Up to 20 years and a fine up to $250,000.
- Conspiracy to make a false report: Up to five years and a fine up to $250,000.
- Obstruction of justice: Up to 20 years and a fine up to $250,000.
- Conspiracy to obstruct justice: Up to 20 years and a fine up to $250,000.
The FBI, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office, and the Wichita Police Department investigated. U.S. Attorney Stephen McAllister will prosecute along with Assistant U.S. Attorney Debra Barnett.
Earlier this week, an L.A. police detective testified in Kansas court that Barriss admitted to police that he placed a fake emergency call to 911 operators last year that led to a fatal police-involved shooting in Wichita. Barriss was charged in state court last year with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm, and interference with law-enforcement officers. He was extradited to Kansas from California. In his preliminary hearing earlier this week, the judge in the case ruled that there was sufficient evidence to hold Barriss for trial.
Wichita police say Barriss made a fake phone call to authorities on Dec. 28 upon Viner’s urging. Gaskill gave Viner and Barriss a false address, which Barriss used to lead police to the home of 28-year-old Andrew Finch. Finch was shot and killed by police when he came to the door.
Wichita deputy chief Troy Livingston previously said police arrived at Finch’s home shortly after receiving calls to the city’s town hall. They arrived at the address given, believing they were responding to a murder and hostage situation. Police shot and killed Finch after he appeared to lower his hands while standing in front of his home. After the shooting, police discovered four other people inside, but no body or any hostages. This is believed to be the first swatting incident to involve a fatality.
The federal indictment unsealed on Tuesday offers more insight into the events that led up to that swatting and the fatal shooting that followed.
Viner and Gaskill were playing an online match of “Call of Duty WW II” together on Dec. 28, 2017. Something upset Viner about the match, and the two got into an argument. Viner contacted Barriss and asked him to swat Gaskill at an address where Gaskill said he was living. But Gaskill had actually given the address of a home his family owned, but was renting to someone else, according to the indictment.
Before making the fake 911 call, Barriss and Gaskill got into an argument over private messages on Twitter about the impending swatting. In the argument, Gaskill repeatedly cajoled Barriss into swatting his former address. Minutes after the exchange, according to the indictment, Barriss began the series of fakes emergency calls to the Wichita Police Department that would eventually lead to a fatal shooting at the house.
Shortly after ending his call with emergency dispatchers by saying he had killed his father and was going to set the home on fire with his brother and mother inside, Barriss contacted Gaskill again, according to the indictment. In this second exchange, Gaskill tells Barriss it was a former address and that the Wichita Police know to call him if an emergency call ever comes from his real address, to make sure it’s not a swatting.
After the shooting, according to Gaskill, the police showed up at his real house to talk to his family because “someone (I know) just killed his dad.” The two continue to chat online, name-calling each other, with Gaskill mocking Barriss for swatting the wrong house.
But shortly before 10 p.m., Gaskill contacted Barriss again, this time in a panic, telling Barriss to “delete everything. This is a murder case now.”
The next day, Viner — who the indictment says asked Barriss to swat Gaskill, told an online friend that “the investigation will literally unveil everything,” and worried about going to prison for his actions. Viner also texted a friend saying he was “involved in someone’s death.” He then explained why the swatting happened: “I got pissed off at him, he got pissed at me … he gave me his address and said pull up, and I said I won’t be the one pulling up, you’re getting swatted.”
It is unclear if either Viner or Gaskill is in custody.
The officer who fired the fatal shot will not be criminally charged, the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office announced last month. But the DA added that the shooting should not have happened and noted that the investigation only weighs potential criminal charges, not civil liability or potential police department policy violations.
In making his determination, District Attorney Marc Bennett concluded that the officer who fired the single fatal shot from his rifle believed that Finch had drawn a gun from his waistband and was raising it to shoot at officers who thought they were responding to a deadly hostage situation. Barriss faces unrelated charges in connection with another swatting incident that occurred in Canada, according to the Globe and Mail. Calgary police say they charged Barriss with mischief and fraud following a swatting incident on Dec. 22.
Calgary 911 said it received a phone call that day from a man who claimed he shot his father, and was holding his mother and younger brother hostage. He gave them an address in Calgary’s Bankview neighborhood belonging to an unnamed woman, who told police she was targeted because of her online persona. No one was hurt in the Calgary case. The Sedgwick DA’s office is also looking into an April incident in which Barriss apparently managed to get on Twitter from jail, where he threatened to swat others, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said. Another federal indictment was unsealed against Barriss this week, this one charging in a case involving making threats against a government building in Washington, D.C.