Police worry prank SWAT calls could lead to deaths
Posted April 29, 2015
Online video game players may be strangers who live across the country or around the world, but the Internet offers them a window into each other’s homes. Some have taken advantage of that window, calling police to report fake crimes for the amusement of seeing a video game foe faced with real law enforcement.
Triangle law enforcement officers say the prank called "swatting" – prompting a SWAT raid of the home of another gamer, either as revenge or for amusement – is dangerous and potentially deadly.
When Woody Woodworth's wife told him someone was lurking in the dark outside their Apex home, he armed himself in self-defense.
"She's like, 'There's people in the yard dressed in black, scurrying around,'" Woodworth said.
After spotting two men behind a tree, Woodworth grabbed his gun.
"I grab my shotgun and I head down the stairs," he said. "I headed down the front stairs and they're like, 'Put the gun down. It's the SWAT team.'"
Within moments, officers swarmed Woodworth's home.
"The SWAT team rushed the house – armored shields first, armed people second and they're going through the house and they're going room to room looking for dead bodies," Woodworth said.
Capt. Chris Myhand led the response. His team was called out on a report that a man had murdered his wife and child and was holding another child hostage. As officers approached the front door, Woodworth appeared.
"He comes to the top of the stairs with a gun in his hand as a lot of homeowners would do in the middle of the night with someone knocking on their door," Myhand said.
Both the homeowner and the SWAT team remained calm enough to end the confrontation without gunfire.
"Had it gone on any longer, we could have easily been involved in a situation where we could have shot and potentially killed a homeowner who was just protecting his family," Myhand said.
To him, "swatting" is no joking matter. False calls waste resources and put lives at risk.
"This isn't the same as making a prank call," Myhand said. In North Carolina, that offense is punishable by up to six months in jail.
Myhand said when "swatting" goes wrong, the outcome, and the punishment, could be much worse.
"If someone made a 'swatting' call, and officers responded and they kill the homeowner," he said, "I think they're responsible for that death, and I think, legally, they committed murder."
The culprits behind "swatting" are tough to track. If they use the Internet to make the 911 call, it can be almost impossible to trace. In the case of the call to Woodworth's house, the person behind the threat has yet to be identified.