Police SWAT team. Photo by Specna Arms
Mohave County

Swatting: Technological Harassment that can Drain Resources

Police SWAT team. Photo by Specna Arms

GOLDEN VALLEY – It’s a childish move that can drain necessary resources.

Swatting is an online criminal harassment tactic where someone contacts law enforcement or other first responder agencies – usually by calling dispatchers to report serious but fabricated situation such as a bomb threat, domestic violence or murder in progress. Police and emergency service response teams are then sent to another person’s address.

The term derives from the special weapons and tactics (SWAT) law enforcement units.

Swatting is big among those in the online video game community. It happened recently in Golden Valley and diverted Mohave County Sheriff’s deputies away from other situations.

“It’s dangerous because those resources are needed somewhere else,” said swatting victim Eric Rhoten.

On March 29, Mohave County Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to a reported domestic violence incident at his home in the 4800 block of Teddy Roosevelt Road at about 8:10 p.m. According to an MCSO spokesperson, Kingman Police Department dispatchers had received an anonymous call that a woman had been shot. They passed the call to MCSO jurisdiction.

Rhoten was live streaming a woodworking video on his You Tube channel. About 20 minutes after the live stream concluded, MCSO and Arizona Department of Public Safety troopers showed up with lights and sirens blazing. He looked out the front door and saw the distinctive red and blue lights in front of his house.

Officers converged on the area.

“I thought someone was pulled over,” he said. “I had no idea they were here for me.”

Rhoten said the deputies were yelling through the bullhorn and asking about weapons in the home. Rhoten was shocked.

“It was crazy,” he said.

The suspect told dispatchers Rhoten was abusing his grandmother (both of which have been dead for a few years), had shot her once and was going to shoot her again.

Rhoten went outside to talk to deputies (he counted at least eight, but no official number of law enforcement personnel were available) who had numerous weapons pointed at him. His dogs ran out to bark and he was worried that they might get shot. 

Rhoten remained calm.

“I know that if I would’ve done something stupid, I would not be here right now,” he said.

Rhoten was handcuffed, placed in the back of a patrol car.

Deputies searched the house, found nothing wrong, and after about 10 tense minutes of confusion and questioning, released Rhoden without incident after realizing the whole thing was a hoax.

No “victim” was present.

Between the response to Rhoden’s home and a crash on Highway 93, resources had been diverted.

Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves confirmed what Mohave County Rattler staff had heard over a scanner. DPS did respond to the “shooting” but also, shortly after 8:45 p.m., MCSO and DPS also answered a dispatch to a one- vehicle rollover on southbound U.S. 93 at milepost 29 near White Hills. One person had injuries but refused medical attention. There’s no telling how the situation would’ve turned out had the accident been worse.

Since MCSO, DPS troopers (and an American Medical Response ambulance according to a neighbor) were dispatched to Rhoten’s home at the hoax in Golden Valley, they weren’t at quicker disposal to the rollover.

Rhoten completely understands why deputies were so high-strung and holds no grudges. Whoever called dispatch named him personally as suspect.

“The deputies didn’t rough me up or anything,” he said. “Once they realized it was fake, they took the handcuffs off and apologized. We stood around and laughed about it.”

Swatting poses numerous challenges for police. Phone calls and internet network addresses can be masked to hide swatter hardware, software and physical locations. No federal laws exist to combat or prosecute the prank and fatalities have been involved. Celebrities such as Tom Cruise, Kim Kardashian and singer Rihanna have been targets of swatting.

A possible charge for swatting could fall under making a false complaint to law enforcement, which according to ARS-13-2907, is a misdemeanor in Arizona that comes with a penalty of up to six months of jail time.

MCSO said the swatting incident is a first and that all calls are taken seriously

“We will send appropriate resources to a call for service,” said Spokeswoman Anita Mortensen. “If it was not what was reported, we would downgrade our resources response.

Finding the culprit can be difficult, but if found, they’ll face charges.

“We would deal with them appropriately on a criminal level,” Mortensen said.  “

Rhoten has no idea where the swatter could’ve been or calling from. He may file an official harassment charge. He wouldn’t release the swatters username in order to prevent an incentive for the suspect to keep up the act.  

“Their goal is to have the cops bust in on you while you’re live,” Rhoten said. “It’s kind of a prank and a badge of honor for the idiots who get a thrill out of this.”

Rhoten said he has a regular audience that makes crazy comments. However, after reviewing comments that night, the suspect was posting off-the-wall comments on the You Tube thread and that’s what caught Rhoten’s attention.   

Screenshot of Rhoten live streaming on his YouTube channel.

“Nothing super-weird, angry or racist,” he said. “It was just different than our normal community.”

Because of the delay between KPD and MCSO dispatch and response times, the swatter didn’t get to see their goal of disrupting the broadcast.

MCSO has not obtained any information on the swatting suspect, so it’s impossible to file any charges.

Rhoten isn’t too worried and is glad he’s still alive.

‘It was quite an experience,” Rhoten said. “The deputies were professional and amazing.”

Original Story: Police Swarm House After Gunshot Report