Imagine for a moment, if you will, this situation:
You are at home with your family on the average weeknight. Dinner’s over and the kids are playing in the living room with the TV going in the background. You’re finishing cleaning up the dishes in the kitchen. You turn to tell your husband something funny you heard at work and one of the kids says “Mommy, there are people outside.” You lean a little to try to look toward the front window but you can’t see anything. Just as you put down the dishtowel the front door and the back door both explode inward at the same moment.
Holy smokes! Big guys dressed in black with big black guns come screaming into your house. They yell at you to get down and point real guns at you. Your kids are terrified and start screaming. You try to run to the kids but the big guys tackle you, which really hurts. From the floor you see four of these guys on your staircase. They throw something up to the top. There’s a huge explosion and they go running up. Some big cop is actually kneeling on your back as another one wrenches your arms around and uses painful plastic zip ties to bind your hands together. You realize there are cops everywhere and your house is being torn to pieces as they look for something.
Six hours later they are finally gone and you are released from jail on your own recognizance. Your neighbors are going to shun you like you have bubonic plague. Your kids are with your parents until this is sorted out and for the next couple of days your friends at work pretend like they didn’t see you on the news. A week or so later the detective team starts telling you that they think you were telling the truth and you aren’t part of a bad bomb plot. That’s great, but your life never goes back to normal.
Do you know what happened? You got swatted.
Swatting is the term used for a really bad kind of prank. A swatter calls 911 and says something like their boyfriend just brought home something that looks like a huge bomb and all his Iranian friends from flight school are down there being loud in the living room. Could you cops please come tell them to leave? Or they say there’s a gang murder going on in their basement right this very second. Somebody just shot a gun a couple of times and the caller is hiding in the closet.
Except that it’s not true. They are trying to get the cops to go mess up somebody they don’t like and it works. In the example above it happened because a woman thought she was jilted and suspected her husband’s co-worker. As far as anyone has ever told me, there was nothing actually going on at work between the two. It may have been one of those close “work-wife” situations but it really looks like the husband never crossed the line. His wife just wanted some revenge and oh boy did she get what she wanted.
Usually swatters use a type of cloned cell phone, a teletext machine, or technical “spoofing” technology to hide their true identity and make it seem like their call is coming from the victim’s house or place of employment. The FBI says it first identified this kind of hoax as a separate crime in 2002 but only prosecuted the first one in 2007. According to the FBI, swatters are typically men under 30 but I doubt that is an exclusive profile. Anyone with a grudge who wants to can figure out how to successfully swat somebody these days.
I can laugh at a good prank like anyone, but some jokes just aren’t funny. We all hate the guy who pulled the fire alarm in High School. April Fools jokes can go too far, too. Ashton Kutcher probably thought his prank show Punk’d was funny, but I doubt he thought things were humorous when he got swatted on October 4, 2012. Ashton wasn’t home but somebody used a teletext device designed for deaf people to call in a hostage situation with shots fired at his house. Three innocent workers were inside when the cops descended on Ashton’s house. This swatting episode cost the LAPD $10,000 on the police response that included a helicopter and the SWAT team.
Miley Cyrus was a victim of the same kind of swatting episode a few months ago. Apparently the police were led to believe it was a “kidnap in progress” after shots had been fired inside. She wasn’t home either, but it was a real expensive mess. Same goes for Justin Bieber’s swatting episode which was also called in with a teletype device, just like Ashton’s. It used to be that you were only a famous celebrity if you had a stalker.
Apparently nobody has been arrested or charged in any of these swatting episodes. Either it’s far too easy to swat somebody or the celebrity swatters out in Los Angeles are really good. The one I represented got caught because she was seen on a video camera at a business while she made the swatting call. She had also done a bunch of internet searches on her home computer about how to do swatting. She didn’t plan her crime very well at all. Now she’s sitting in the state system with plenty of time to think about ways to do it better after she gets released. Of course when she gets out she’s also got a huge bill to pay to the state. From what I could tell from searching around on-line, she’s the rare exception as very few swatters ever get caught.
Update: On February 8, 2013 it was announced that a twelve year old boy was arrested and will be charged with the Ashton Kutcher swatting incident in juvenile court. Read about it by clicking here. Really? The kid is twelve?