The police officer who fatally shot a man standing on his Wichita, Kans., porch after a bogus 911-call to the police department drew officers there will not be criminally charged, the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office announced on Thursday. 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 Andrew Finch, 28, 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.
But almost everything that the officer later told investigators he believed he saw and was responding to wasn’t the case, according to the investigative report released to Variety by the DA’s office Thursday.
Officers were tricked, police now say, by Tyler Raj Barriss, 25, into thinking that someone had just killed the father at the address, doused the home in gas, and was about to set the place ablaze with himself, mother, and sister inside. The reality was that Barriss was angry, according to some reports, over a match of “Call of Duty,” called the police from California, and fooled them into thinking he was at Finch’s home. Barriss himself thought it was the home of an online gaming rival. It wasn’t.
The officer who fired the shot from a rifle told investigators following the shooting that after police arrived at what they thought was an active hostage situation, after Finch walked out onto his porch, he thought he saw the man reach for and pull out a gun. He said he didn’t fire until his hand came up with what he thought was a gun in his hand. The reality was that Finch was unarmed and that nearly every officer on the scene never saw him raise his hand with a gun in it. Several reported that they didn’t fire because they didn’t see a gun. At least one officer said that when he saw Finch dropping his hands to his waistband and pull them back up he remembered thinking, “that’s not a good idea. . . don’t be lifting, tugging at your waistband.”
Under Kansas state law, a police-involved shooting has to pass a “two-pronged test” to be considered lawful. The first prong is that the shooter has to “sincerely and honestly believed it was necessary to kill to defend” himself. The second prong requires showing that a reasonable person in the same circumstances would have perceived the use of deadly force in self-defense as reasonable. On top of that, prosecutors have to weigh the evidence and that two-prong test through the context of the situation, in this case a police officer who thinks he is responding to a high-risk situation involving a homicide and an armed hostage taker.
Bennett wrapped up the 42-page report by saying that the shooting should not have happened, but that the officer’s decision to shoot was “made in the context of the false call.”
“To charge Officer #1 would require evidence — not 20/20 hindsight — that it was unreasonable for him to believe in that moment that the man who came to the door posed a risk to the officers near the house,” Bennett wrote. “Given the evidence provided to the officers by dispatch and Mr. Finch’s physical movements after opening the door, there is insufficient evidence to establish that Officer 1 acted in an unreasonable manner in the defense of the officers east of the house. There is insufficient evidence to overcome self-defense immunity under Kansas law.”
Following the shooting, Barriss was charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm, and interference with law-enforcement officers. He was arrested in California and later extradited to the Sedgwick County Jail in Kansas. His bond is set at $500,000. Under Kansas state law, involuntary manslaughter is a killing that was unintentional that resulted from recklessness or during another unlawful act. The maximum sentence for the felony ranges from 31 months to 136 months, depending on a number of factors, including any prior criminal record.
While Barriss appeared in court, he has yet to enter a plea. The arraignment has been postponed multiple times. The most recent date for his preliminary hearing was April 5, but that was postponed to May 22. This is believed to be the first swatting incident to involve a fatality.
Barriss also faces charges in connection with another swatting incident that occurred in Canada, according to the Globe and Mail. Calgary police say they charged Barriss of Los Angeles 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 unidentified woman, who told police she was targeted because of her online persona. No one was hurt in the Calgary case.
Earlier this month, Barriss managed to get on Twitter from jail and threatened to swat others, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office said. The DA’s office told Variety they are looking into filing charges in relation to the new incident. Following the shooting, Finch’s family worked to craft a new bill to address swatting incidents. Under the bill, anyone who makes a false alarm or swatting call that results in death or extreme injury faces a level one felony, which carries a prison sentence between 10 and 41 years, depending on criminal history. The governor signed the bill into law Thursday. It goes into effect on July 1.