The federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of Kansas seeks unspecified damages related to the Dec. 28 death of Andrew Finch in Wichita. The unarmed 28-year-old man was shot by police responding to a California man's call with a fake story about a shooting and kidnapping at Finch's Wichita home.
The shooting drew national attention to a practice called "swatting," in which a person makes up a false report to get emergency responders to descend on an address. The hoax call reportedly was made after a dispute over a small wager online in a "Call of Duty" online video game tournament, according to Dexerto, a news service focused on gaming.
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"The family wants justice and reform — they want to make sure Andy's legacy means something and maybe some other family won't have to experience the tragedy they are experiencing because of a change in policy and procedures," said civil rights attorney Andrew M. Stroth, who is representing the family. His Chicago law firm specializes in police shootings cases nationwide.
Wichita police officers have been involved in at least 29 shootings between 2010 and 2015, resulting in at least 15 deaths, according to the lawsuit. In most of these cases, the city has declined to release the names of the involved officers.
"Two children — a 7-year-old boy and an almost 2-year-old girl — lost their father because of the unjustified and unconstitutional acts of the Wichita Police Department as well as the policies, practices and custom of the WPD," Stroth said.
Tyler Barriss, 25, of Los Angeles has been criminally charged with involuntary manslaughter, giving false alarm and interference with a law enforcement officer for allegedly placing the hoax call. Barriss is not named as a defendant in the Finch family's civil lawsuit.
"Wichita leadership is trying to put all the blame on the young man in California who placed the swatting call," Stroth said. "But let's be clear: the swatter did not shoot the bullet that killed Andy Finch. That was an officer working under the direction of the Wichita Police Department."
The lawsuit cites FBI crime statistics showing Wichita has a ratio of one shooting death for every 120 officers — a number that is 11 times greater than the national ratio and 12 times greater than the ratio in Chicago.
"How can Wichita police department officers not be trained to deal with this type of situation," Stroth said. "Swatting is not new, prank calls are not new."
The hoax call was not a local 911 call, and the house the caller described did not match the description of the house police surrounded in Wichita. Those factors should have been assessed prior to a police officer from 40 to 50 yards away shooting a bullet at Finch, Stroth said.
Police have said officers told Finch to put his hands up and move slowly and that Finch moved a hand toward the area of his waistband. Police have also said an officer who feared Finch was reaching for a gun fired a single shot. Finch was unarmed.