WICHITA, Kan. – The Kansas police officer who fired the shot that killed a man during a hoax emergency call will not face criminal charges, a prosecutor announced Thursday.
District Attorney Marc Bennett said there was reasonable concern at the time that Andrew Finch may have been armed with a weapon.
The unarmed 28-year-old Wichita man was shot Dec. 28 by police responding to a California man's fake calls about a killing and kidnapping at Finch's home. The person who called said he shot his father in the head and was holding his mother and little brother at gunpoint in a closet in the house.
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 officer who fired the shot, identified only as "officer number one" was stationed across the street, and fired believing Finch was reaching for a weapon when he moved his arm, Bennett said.
"This shooting should not have happened," Bennett said. "But this officer's decision was made in the context of the false call. To charge 'officer number one' would require evidence, not 20/20 hindsight, that it was unreasonable for him to believe in that moment that the man who came to the door posed a risk to the officers near the house."
Chicago civil rights attorney Andrew M. Stroth, who is representing the Finch family, said in a phone interview after the DA's announcement that the family is devastated.
"The district attorney's failure to indict the officer is a disappointment," Stroth said. "Andy Finch was unjustifiably and unreasonably executed in the sanctity of his home."
The family believes Wichita city leaders and the officers are responsible for his death, Stroth said. Police failed to vet the swatting call, the Finch house did not match the description given by the caller, and there was no hostage situation or criminal activity taking place in the home. The family has filed a civil rights lawsuit.
After the announcement from the district attorney's office, Wichita police released a news release saying the incident has weighed on the hearts of the department and the community.
The police department also outlined a series of "next steps" it was taking regarding the incident, including an internal investigation to determine if policies and training were followed, and a review of training and policies to include any recommendations. Those entail both administrative reviews as well as reviews by a Citizens Review Board.
The department said it "recognizes the concern this tragedy has caused and is committed to do everything it can to prevent an incident like this from occurring again."
Tyler Barriss, 25, of Los Angeles has been charged with involuntary manslaughter for allegedly making the deadly swatting call. He is scheduled for a preliminary hearing on May 22.
Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer has signed legislation that will increase the penalties for making hoax emergency calls when they lead to the injuries or deaths of others.
The new law takes effect July 1 and calls for a presumed sentence of more than 12 years in prisons for a first conviction when a hoax call results in someone's death.
Associated Press Writer John Hanna contributed to this story from Topeka.