Way back in 2017, the gaming industry was shocked by the news that a gaming-related swatting incident had actually resulted in the death of an innocent person. In a nutshell, Call of Duty gamers engaged in griefplay against each other essentially called in a fake SWAT call on an unrelated address in Wichita, Kansas. When the innocent and unarmed resident, Andrew Finch, opened the door, a SWAT officer shot and killed him, marking the first swatting murder in the US. (Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.)
Over the ensuing years, the gamers involved have been punished in varying degrees by the justice system, with the ringleader sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role. However, readers will recall that the SWAT member who actually killed Finch was never charged by county prosecutors in spite of the bizarre handling and judgment in regard to the call, and the Wichita Police exonerated their own officer. This led Finch’s family to file a civil suit against the city and the officer who shot Finch (Justin Rapp) and his supervisor.
There we lost track of the story, but Finch’s family’s case has nevertheless continued working its way through the courts, and the district court “held that a reasonable jury could find that Finch was unarmed and unthreatening” and allowed the case against Rapp to proceed, denying Rapp’s qualified immunity defense, which he then appealed. (Qualified immunity in the US is meant to protect government officials from prosecution for good faith actions, but it has a long history of being abused to dodge accountability for rights violations.)
The latest entry in the saga came down this week: The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the district court’s decision to grant summary judgment in favor of the city of Wichita, but it also upheld the district court’s decision to deny summary judgment for Rapp’s qualified immunity defense, meaning the case against Rapp will march on to a jury.
“The district court concluded that a reasonable jury could find that (1) Rapp fired a shot when he could see Finch’s hands were empty, (2) Rapp’s assertion that Finch made a threatening motion was false, and (3) Rapp could not see Finch’s movements clearly due to darkness and distance, along with numerous other facts. […] Rapp claims a reasonable officer could believe Finch posed a threat of serious physical harm and therefore qualified immunity should apply. But based on the district court’s findings of fact, Finch could not have posed a threat and Rapp was not entitled to qualified immunity. Finch claims the City of Wichita’s investigatory and disciplinary policies following use-of-force incidents lacked accountability, reflected deliberate indifference, and caused Finch’s death. But he failed to support his allegations with any evidence of such a policy. For the reasons below, we affirm both of the district court’s rulings.”
Rapp, incidentally, also sued the city because for lost wages he incurred after he shot and killed a swatting victim. The case was apparently dismissed, but in the meantime, he’s been promoted to detective as of last week, just a few days before his appeal was denied.
If you’re curious about the whole story, you can catch a partial summary in the appellate case filing or check out our past articles. You can also watch Netflix’s new docuseries, dubbed Web of Make Believe; Death, Lies and the Internet; the very first episode, Death by SWAT, focuses on this incident. And after that… we wait.