SANTA ANA, California – A computer hacker was sentenced to three years in prison for placing a phony emergency call that led police to storm a family home at gunpoint.
It marked the first prosecution in Orange County, in South California, for a prank known as "swatting" that involves sending SWAT teams — special weapons and tactics units — on fruitless chases, said county district attorney's spokeswoman Farrah Emami on Thursday.
Randal T. Ellis, 19, pleaded guilty Wednesday in Orange County Superior Court to five felony counts, including computer access and fraud, false imprisonment by violence and falsely reporting a crime.
He was given prison time and ordered to pay $14,765 in restitution, most of which will go to the county Sheriff's Department.
A call to Ellis's attorney, Ronald Brower, was not immediately returned Thursday.
Ellis, of Mukilteo, Washington, placed a call to the emergency hot line 911 last March, at first claiming to report a drug overdose and then alleging a possible murder, investigators said.
Prosecutors said he hacked the 911 system and transmitted phony information that appeared to show he was calling from a Lake Forest home. A sheriff's SWAT team accompanied by police dogs and a helicopter descended on the home, where a couple and their two toddlers were sleeping, Emami said.
Doug Bates, awakened by a noise, thought there were prowlers outside and grabbed a kitchen knife. When he checked the backyard, he found SWAT team deputies pointing assault rifles at him. Bates and his wife were handcuffed until authorities determined the call was a hoax.
"That very easily could have turned deadly," Emami said.
Ellis was arrested last October and had remained jailed since then.