Far from a harmless prank, hoax calls about active shooters at Wisconsin schools forced thousands of students on lockdown and put innocent people in danger.
On Oct. 20, 2022, more than a dozen schools in the state received false active shooter threats. A recent law enacted in March 2020 made swatting a felony crime.
Sen. Robert Cowles, a co-author of the bill that became law, released a statement:
“Swatting, the act of knowingly reporting a false criminal event with the intent of invoking a large police response (often including a SWAT team), is a serious crime. Parents, students, and teachers from throughout Wisconsin yesterday were panicked by the deranged actions of a criminal. In the 2019-20 Legislative Session, I worked with my colleagues to create the felony crime of swatting in Wisconsin. This ensures that law enforcement and prosecutors have the tools they need to properly punish criminals for this reckless and heartless act. If the perpetrator of yesterday’s events is found, it’s my hope that the criminal justice system can utilize the penalties we established in state law to punish that person and show that we take this very seriously.”
Wisconsin law now says whoever intentionally conveys false information that an emergency exists is guilty of a Class I felony if the hoax elicits or could elicit a response from a specialized tactical team. The offense is upgraded to a Class H felony if it results in bodily harm. A Class E felony is charged if great bodily harm is caused.
The consequences of swatting felony charges in Wisconsin are as follows:
- Class I Felony: Punishable by up to 3 years 6 months in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000
- Class H Felony: Punishable by up to 6 years in prison and/or fines of up to $10,000
- Class E Felony: Punishable by up to 15 years in prison and/or fines of up to $50,000
A false bomb threat is also a Class I felony.
Common Pattern in School Swatting
From mid-September to late October, the National Association of School Resource Officers (NASRO) estimates schools in 28 states and the District of Columbia have been swatting targets. The Oct. 20 fake calls in Wisconsin were similar. A man with a thick accent, who seemed to be reading from a script, called in many of the threats. He says he is a student but sounds like an adult. Many of the schools involved are in southeast Wisconsin and Milwaukee.
In an NPR report, NASRO Executive Director Mo Canady said active shooter swatting is more dangerous than fake bomb threats.
“If we get a call that someone is actively shooting, injuring, killing people, that's a whole different matter. That requires really an all-out response,” he said.
The call may not be the only thing that was fake. Law enforcement has traced with IP address of the call to Ethiopia, but IP addresses can be disguised.
Schools Are Not the Only Targets
Playing on the fears of school shootings is not the only motive of swatters. Organizations, businesses, and individual homes are also in the crosshairs. The victim’s number is sometimes doxed, so the police believe the call for help is from the business or residence.
Some swatters want victims to fear for their lives as law enforcement rushes into their homes. The homeowner is caught off guard, and law enforcement believes they face an armed intruder. Serious or lethal injury is possible.
In June 2022, Steven Point police were called to a residence where a man allegedly shot his girlfriend and was planning to turn the gun on himself. Other agencies and the Stevens Point Fire Department were also on standby to assist. After surrounding the home, the police eventually talked to the man inside and realized the whole thing was a prank.
Swatting Pranks Are Felonies
Fake calls about active shooters, bomb threats, or any other high-profile threat that brings out the force of law enforcement will likely be met with felony charges that have the power to forever change the direction of someone’s life.
If you find yourself on the wrong side of law enforcement, your first call should be to the Law Offices of Christopher J. Cherella. Attorney Cherella has more than 20 years of experience as a lawyer, including three years as a prosecutor with the City of Milwaukee. He knows the criminal justice process from both sides of the courtroom, giving him insight now found in all criminal defense attorneys.
If you are suspected of committing a felony crime, contact Attorney Cherella. Our firm is available 24/7 to fight for your rights. Call (414) 882-8382 for a phone, video, or in-person consultation.