Government resumes prosecution in deadly 'swatting' case
The death of Andrew Finch, the unintended victim of a hoax call, drew national attention to “swatting"
By Roxana Hegeman
BELLE PLAINE, Kan. — A Kansas gamer whose online dispute with another player sparked a deadly hoax call will have to face a jury after violating the terms of a diversion deal he made with prosecutors, a judge ruled Monday.
U.S. District Judge Eric Melgren granted the government's motion to resume prosecution of Shane Gaskill of Wichita and set his trial for Oct. 5.
Gaskill is charged with conspiracy, wire fraud and other counts in connection with a series of events on Dec. 28, 2017, that culminated in the fatal police shooting of an innocent 28-year-old man on the front porch of his family’s home in Wichita.
The death of Andrew Finch drew national attention to “swatting,” a form of retaliation in which someone reports a false emergency to get authorities, particularly a SWAT team, to descend on an address.
Gaskill had struck an 18-month pretrial diversion agreement with prosecutors in December 2019 that could have allowed the charges against him to be dropped. That agreement was extended in December 2020 for an additional year to give him more time to obtain his high school equivalency.
But prosecutors notified his defense attorney in February of their intent to resume prosecution after the U.S. Probation Office notified the government that Gaskill had violated the conditions of his diversion.
The government's filing does not indicate exactly how Gaskill violated those conditions, but his defense attorney, Stephen Ariagno noted in his response to it that Gaskill had not violated any laws and had refrained from the use of alcohol and drugs. He also had submitted his apology letter and paid all fees.
His attorney contends that Gaskill, who suffers from learning disabilities, had struggled with online learning after the coronavirus pandemic shut down the in-person program. When the program restarted this year, the classes quickly filled to capacity and he was unable to start them before March 1. He is now attending in-person classes, according to the defense filing.
Ariagno did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the judge's ruling granting the government's request to resume prosecution.
Gaskill got into an online argument with Ohio gamer Casey Viner while they were playing the Call of Duty video game. Authorities said Viner recruited Tyler R. Barriss to “swat” Gaskill, who was 19 at the time. But the address they used was old, leading police to Finch, who was not involved in the dispute or playing the video game.
Barriss, a Los Angeles man with an online reputation for “swatting,” called police from Los Angeles to falsely report a shooting and kidnapping at that Wichita address. Finch was shot by police when he opened the door to see what was happening outside.
Gaskill was charged as a co-conspirator after knowingly giving Barriss the same former address and taunting him to “try something.”
Barriss is serving 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to 51 counts in April 2019. Viner received a 15-month prison sentence in September 2019 after pleading guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice.