Man dies of a heart attack after minors swatted him over his rare Twitter handle - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=27900825 - July 2021 (523 comments)
> Other victims of the group told prosecutors their tormentors further harassed them by making false reports of child abuse to social services local to the target’s area, and false reports in the target’s name to local suicide prevention hotlines.
> Eventually, when subjects of their harassment refused to sell or give up their Twitter and Instagram usernames, Sonderman and others would swat their targets — or make a false report to authorities in the target’s name with the intention of sending a heavily armed police response to that person’s address.
You can certainly be concerned about the procedures followed and whether they are wise or followed correctly. And should they be looked at and changed? Probably! Almost certainly! But somehow I doubt that the people who you are low-key castigating for their reaction towards the person breaking that societal trust are forgetting this. Most people are, after all, able to care about more than one thing at once.
But the proximate cause is that broken trust, and that the safety measures have not succeeded does not reduce the magnitude of that broken trust. That breaking of that trust is primarily alarming to people is not a particularly humane reason to adjust one's pince-nez and hrm at them.
It's pretty scary that an unauthenticated, anonymous phone call from an unknown location is enough to cause an armed police response. Do a little investigation first to try to corroborate the claim before treating it seriously!
If the police don't act swiftly enough and harm was to come to anyone they'd be criticised for not taking it seriously. Police can't win either way. If you were the person in need would you want an immediate response or a little investigation first?
I’m as disgusted with this story as most seem to be, but I don’t think running KYC and asking for documentation of the emergency is a good idea for 999 calls.
Now you may quite reasonably point out that a page on a software system is seldom of the same weight as an emergency call to the police (true in my case -- money, not lives, have always been at stake in the systems I work on), but this ignores the reality that the "swarming with guns" approach _also_ can, and has, cost lives. So if anything, the higher stakes involved for police involvement is an even _stronger_ argument to take the extra time to properly assess the proportional response.
Perhaps my conclusion would be, rather, that a SWAT team coming in to arrest someone shouldn't also lead to a heart attack situation. Maybe I'm being naive, and probably most people SWAT teams come to apprehend are super-dangerous, but it feels to me it shouldn't be a consideration.
I know HN loves to think raw tech will save the world but come on... this is a societal problem, not a tech problem
There is an argument that most passwords don't, either.
It shouldn't be possible to be murdered at all. But phone calls can transmit arbitrary information to arbitrary parties. So it's going to pretty tough to limit any particular consequence of them.
Like what happened here: https://krebsonsecurity.com/2017/12/kansas-man-killed-in-swa...
What bothers me, and I imagine the original commentator, is that swatting works at all. It is deeply concerning that police in America are so reliably violent that they can be used as a fairly effective murder weapon.
Discussing the fact that communication mediums that allow arbitrary messages to be sent allows one to construct abstract scenarios in which such a transmission causes a chain of events that leads to someone's death feels like it misses that point.
Availability of military-style shoot-first-ask-later force to anyone is a problem, regardless of the communication mechanism used to request it.
That's my impression atleast, so I'd guess you agree.
I feel sorry for everyone of the people in the discord channel.
Well before they “swatted” this guy an entire group of people whose lives are so devoid of meaning, opportunity, and hope they had organized to take social media handles to resell for a few thousand dollars (maybe a couple hundred per person once split amount the group).
Those focusing on the militarization of the police don’t appear any more sympathetic to the deceased than those responsible. This group was intent on ruining lives, and they successfully achieved that long before swatting him which resulted in his death. Swatting is just 1 of the tools this group used, if it didn’t exist they’d have used the next tool at their disposal, just look at the testimony from the other victims.
But you’re also right concerning the boys. If society took proper care of them, instead of making IRL socialization for boys so miserable that a whole generation finds life through Discord more attractive, we’d have much fewer of those occurrences.
The man who died came at the police with a gun in hand. The police de-escalated the situation without any shots being fired, but the man was so startled that he had a heart attack.
I know police are not popular on HN, but so far I haven't seen any suggestions for what the police should have done differently, other than unrealistic suggestions that they ignore the call and not act on reports of a violent crime in progress. Note that it's called "swatting" but it doesn't appear an actual SWAT team was dispatched, just the local police responding to a call of a violent crime in progress.
Walking home, I once saw a huge number of cop cars lights flashing on my parents property and was quite concerned. Only by getting close did I realize they where surrounding a burnt car. Lights flashing is reasonable for a traffic stop but it’s not sending a calming message. At the other end I had a cop calmly knocking on my door and everything from his posture to the force and rhythm he used was keeping the situation calm.
First case bank robbers abandoned and set fire to their getaway car in an empty field, the second someone handed in my cellphone to lost and found. First case had nothing to do with me and I was flipping out, second a cops at my front door and everything is calm.
Long story short, the description is quite a few cops where there which is inherently a very stressful situation.
> "He went out the house with a gun, because he heard someone was on his property," Fitch explained. "He sees all these cops around him, and they ask if he is Mark Herring, 'put your hands up,' so he tosses the gun away from him to show he's not a threat, and [put his] hands up."
The police responded to reports of a violent crime in progress, confronted a man with a gun, and de-escalated the situation without any shots fired. There are a lot of bad assumptions in the comments on both articles assuming that the police shot the man, which isn't correct.
One anonymous source is enough to justify the police putting resources towards investigating. Knocking on doors, calling phones, etc. It shouldn't be enough for even a 4th amendment search, let alone going in with guns blazing.
Police did not go in "with guns blazing". No shots were fired.
The person who died of a heart attack came outside to greet the police with a gun in hand. The police de-escalated the situation without any shots fired on either side.
The police did not de-escalate the situation, they gave orders both impossible to comply with, and in my opinion unconstitutional (they had no probably cause with which they could seize the victim), with the implicit threat that they would shoot the victim if he did not comply.
I also saw this some in college after sports wins, where the local police turned peaceful, happy crowds into angry mobs by behaving aggressively. And then once they had people angry, that justified further escalation.
There are definitely emergency situations where knocking on neighbors' doors is not going to be fast enough.
First that shouldn't be considered probable cause without some supporting evidence, especially given the well established practice of swatting. Supporting evidence here might be as simple as proof (beyond what swatters could spoof) that the call came from the house they're busting down the door of... or peaking in the window. If the police can't establish that a crime is probably happening, they shouldn't be busting down doors, even if that means that they are possible failing to prevent a crime.
Second, busting down the door in response to a hostage situation isn't even a reasonable response, that's just asking for the hostage to be killed... the appropriate response there is to establish what is actually going on, and only then consider violent action, but almost always to try and talk the hostage taker out... in your typical hostage situation the hostage takers want something and the police have all the time in the world, unlike the hostage takers the police can take shifts and get sleep.
Think of this along the lines of the doctors "first, do no harm" principle but applied to rescuing hostages.
The police in sweden this morning freed a hostage this morning at the cost of 20 pizzas, and while I haven't seen how discussed publicly got the other hostage free and the two criminals (back) in custody. Talking really does work...
PS: While I'm at it, can I recommend "never split the difference" as a good book on negotiation, with a side of hostage negotiation stories.
Nobody busted down the doors here; in fact, in no US swatting fatality have the police ever busted doors down.
"First do no harm" is not a universal norm. It applies to medicine because so much of what happens in medicine is in some sense elective; there is an option not to intervene. No such option exists in distress call situations.
I don't think axiomatic reasoning is going to solve the problem of swatting. It's also noteworthy that, even in this case, it wasn't just the police who were tricked into intervening; the swatters got a strange man to break into the victim's house by spoofing messages on Grindr.
Certainly there have both been cases were US police busted doors in response to swatting, e.g.  and killed someone in response to swatting, e.g. . Admittedly I'm not sure if they ever happened simultaneously, nor do I think that's relevant to any of the points I have made. The points I made were
- People have been killed while attempting to comply with police orders, which incidentally  is an example of (as well as an example of swatting).
- Busting doors during actual hostage situations would get people killed, not swatting.  is a particularly powerful example of that...
All of these situations are very difficult and very dangerous. I don't agree in emergency situations that the police should wait, and I don't agree that police should be militarized either. There are dangers in both situations, waiting too long and have multiple armed men in APC turn up on your doorstep to kick butt.
So if we decided that waiting is not an option which I think is an acceptable stance to take, what level of force should be used in these situations becomes the question. Especially in this example where a phone call turned into an innocent death.
I don't know what the answer is, but it very concerning that this is happening.
And how do you see that working exactly ? You're fixing the 1 in a billion edge case and breaking 99% of the real world interventions
"Sir are you stabbing your gf by any chance?"
"Hm nope, you must have the wrong number, is this a swatting aha ?"
"ok nevermind, have a good night sir"
The US police are extremely trigger happy. Since they are a 'protected class'.
Also, this is only one last straw in a long string of harassment tactics, those on their own should be enough to be sent to jail in my opinion. Releasing public information, tricking cash on delivery to the person's address, making false reporting of child abuse to security services about the person, coordinating to have strangers unknowingly perform home invasion at their house, etc.
There might be something to be said about a swat team response, but let's not get distracted by what is a much more common and growing type of crime.
The person who died came outside to greet the police with a gun in hand. The police de-escalated, but they continued to be cautious because they had received a call about a violent gun-related crime in progress.
Other countries don't have loose guns policies like we do, which means that more incidents will require armed response.
First, the police may flat out refuse to believe you (which is also a problem in its own, but in a country without guns, what's the probability that such a call is not a prank?)
Assuming the police decides it's somehow a credible threat, the police will most likely call for the help of the best trained, best equipped, elite anti-terror squad, because that's what they're trained for. It being such an unusual occurrence, the incident will certainly feature in that day's national news. Which also means that the officer commanding the operation knows their actions will be dissected to death by armchair quarterbacks - which might be a bad thing in general, but on the other hand, the officer will certainly NOT order anyone to "just bang on the door and start shooting." Their reputations and jobs are at stake.
And, in the 99% of case it turned out to be a prank, well, you can assume the police will do everything to swiftly find the perpetrator and bring them to justice - after all, the police office has a reputation to protect.
I’m not blaming loose gun control alone. There has been an increasing militarization of the police in the US for at least the last 30 years. Is this happening because citizens are buying greater firepower? Are citizens buying greater firepower because the police are militarizing? Are these two things unrelated? Probably not, but I don’t know. My point is that mixing these two things together produces bad outcomes.
If this is a real event, they don't go in quickly in order to confirm the situation and someone dies because of it would you blame the cops?
The cops seems to be in a lose lose situation. If they go quickly without fully validating the situation they will be blamed for any death. If they take additional time to confirm the situation and that results in somebody dying they will be blamed.
There needs to be validation, but there also needs to be quickness. It is impossible to get the right mix of the two in a consistent manner.
How do they handle it in other countries?
>If this is a real event, they don't go in quickly in order to confirm the situation and someone dies because of it would you blame the cops?
Yes i would blame the cops, its the police job to handle the situation without causing someone to dies.
How exactly they should do is for the police to figure out.
You can't expect general public to figure out the solution.
No clue. That is why I am asking for alternatives.
>Yes i would blame the cops, its the police job to handle the situation without causing someone to dies.
So if the cops go in too fast and it results in a death it is their fault? If they try to validate the information and somebody dies because of the slowness it is their fault?
That is just not practical. We can't just blame cops no matter what they do. We need to decide if going fast and risking lives in that way is preferable or if more fully assessing thr situation and risking lives in that way is better. Just blaming the cops no matter what is wrong.
>How exactly they should do is for the police to figure out.
>You can't expect general public to figure out the solution.
The police have a solution. People don't seem to like it since they go in without fully assessing the situation.
Since we live in a democratic republic (at least if you live in the US) the general public should decide on the solution.
Then the solution is not good enough, they should figure out a better way.
>People don't seem to like it since they go in without fully assessing the situation.
bottom line what the general public want: the cop to handle the situation without causing death
>Since we live in a democratic republic (at least if you live in the US) the general public should decide on the solution.
The general public pay these police from tax to do certain job.
The general public should force whoever in charge of the police to be replaced if they don't do good enough job.
You will either get cops going in without fully assessing the situation or taking too long assessing the situation. Both of these ways will result in deaths. Cops can maybe assess the situation more then they currently do, but not fully as a middle ground but since cops are not perfect they will make mistakes.
The problem is it will never be perfect, but it seems like you are suggesting there is a way to make it perfect. That is holding cops to an impossible solution.
just because you are not sure doesn't mean there is no solution or doesn't mean no body else can't find the solution
>You will either get cops going in without fully assessing the situation or taking too long assessing the situation.
The fallacy is the assume there is only this two situation
>but it seems like you are suggesting there is a way to make it perfect
I never say or demand perfection, only improvement.
>That is holding cops to an impossible solution
You already assume the solution is impossible ?
If the police can't improve the situation then general public should demand whoever in charge to be fired/replaced.
dont you think thats the most useless rebuttal? everyone knows that the context was “randomly killed without cause” not “do the courts count that kind of random killing without cause to be a crime of the killer”
colloquially, people say “murder” for emphasis, to emphasize their disdain for the action
It isnt productive to say “welllllll murder legally means” when the lowest hanging fruit is really to discuss their sentiment
Actually I’ll petition for that right now, since the stewards of those dictionaries probably noticed that context too and would be willing to do their part so that less conversations get auto-derailed
But the problem is that the first time somebody gets killed or harmed because the authorities took any amount of time to confirm the necessity of the response, you'll have people then asking why SWAT wasn't deployed to start with.
As with most things, the problem is people.
The term "swatting" is derived from the acronym SWAT because originally, that was the goal, to get police to respond to targets with SWAT teams/tactics/gear.
The point remains, filling the street with police in response to an anonymous tip should not be the police's first response. A single car should suffice.
The simple fact is that the person who made this fake distress call intended to cause mayhem, predictably succeeded, and that mayhem killed someone. People who call in fake SWAT calls are culpable for homicide.
We're discussing how to make this tactic less effective.
Because there is something disproportionate about sending multiple cars to respond to some guy just sitting in his house who didn't want to give up a twitter handle.
Also, I see nothing in the article about Herring being armed in general and especially nothing about him being armed during the encounter.
The fact of the matter is that the police had no clue as to the truth of the situation and responded based on nothing but a random phone call. That does have to stop.
Mark Herring was the man who was swatted and died. He was swatted because he did not want to give up the @tennessee twitter handle. He was not armed and was even attempting to comply with police.
Unfortunately, harsh sentencing and tougher enforcement/legal action against the perpetrators is probably the only way to stop the issue.
The police job is always descalation. After reading that story, it doesn’t feel like they de escalated anything.
I don’t support militarization of the police, but the problem here is “poorly executed militarization”.
In Switzerland, anyone with sufficient training and mental capabilities can keep a gun at home.
In the US, any psycho without training can have a gun.
The problem isn’t the guns, but rather guns in the hands of idiots.
Same here with militarization of the police. We’re they to receive the same training as the US army, and abide by the same rules, they’ll probably do significantly less harm than what they do now.
So, yes, folks who've done their Swiss military service have their gun at home. Sans ammo.
At that point why not just replace the police with the army then?
Is it okay to shoot someone to protect life and or property?
Some feel it’s almost/never justified. Basically criminals can do whatever they want. (San Francisco)
Others feel it’s a moral responsibility to shoot. And that society is better if bad people fear being shot. (Texas)
People who do bad of course, have their own preferences.
A persons opinion on that is going to drastically affect their viewpoint on guns.
The entire county has a population of about 166k.
Ultimately, you're going to have to have people deal with hostage situations, heavily armed organized crime, etc.
What are you proposing is done if the police receive a call that seems to be from someone in a house saying there is someone taking their family hostage who says they are going to kill them?
How should we address irregular crimes that can require a rapid response?
National average SWAT response time is an hour. Helicopters fly about 160mph. One military base could provide support for a lot of cities at once.
We can look in contrast at the British approach to policing where most cops are unarmed. What armed response units they have are highly trained and very closely supervised. The outcome? American cops kill people at 60x the rate English cops do. https://www.prisonpolicy.org/blog/2020/06/05/policekillings/
The US has a big problem with "We must do something! And rushing in with heavy force is something!" thinking. It's the same with car chases. For decades reformers have been slowly winding down the car chase because they have heavy collateral damage: https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2021/07/police-pursuit-h...
There wasn't literally a SWAT team deployed to this man's house, just the local police. And they didn't actually shoot him, contrary to what a lot of comments are suggesting. He came outside with a gun and they de-escalated. No shots were fired, but the stress of the situation caused him a heart attack.
To answer your question: The "swatting" technique isn't unique to the United States. It happens anywhere police respond to reports of violent crimes in progress, which is most places in the world.
Also, there were other crimes committed that should have increased the severity of the crime.
1) This was an attempt to rob the victim of the "@tennessee" Twitter handle.
2) The perpetrator has done this before.
3) This was a false police report that put not only the victim, but also the police force in danger. It also reduced the ability of the police to respond to actual emergencies.
Totally underwhelming punishment.
The US prosecutes foreigners for crimes committed against Americans, overseas.
Him being a minor might prevent extradition, but the US has also sent agents to kidnap foreigners, in countries the US has an extradition treaty with, and drag them back to the US for trial when it was concerned that extradition wouldn't work, and the US courts have ruled that that is 100% acceptable.
Had he been tried, found guilty and convicted of all counts of all crimes it’s likely the sentence would have been higher and the judge may have had latitude to order them served serially instead of concurrently.
It does not where the felony murder rule applies, though false police reports in many jurisdictions are only misdemeanors. I would argue that a false police report of an imminent violent threat ought itself to be a felony.
(And even absent that, I’d argue that a swatting leading to death clearly is depraved-indifference murder—usually 2nd or 3rd degree depending on the particular statutory scheme, US jurisdictions vary on this—at a minimum.)
Yes, it generally is (the felony is an alternate way to fulfill the malice aforethought element, in place of premeditation.) Though I suppose some statutory schemes may distinguish them.
The second big thing is a grey area of "quasi-lethal intent", which is as old as humanity. Perhaps the classical example of it is King David "willfully endangering" Uriel, the husband of Bethsheba, in order to get him out of the way in order to adulterously claim her as his own. It's a fuzzy motivation - did he really mean to kill him outright, or perhaps merely to cripple him, or just simply "get him out of the picture" by sending him off on a distant military campaign? He knew quite well it could end up lethal, and it did. The reality is we just don't know where the motive fell - we do know that no matter what, it was a very bad motive, that was close to being murderous; we just don't know if it was "the full monty".
I think a lot of swatting and such is like that. It could be a laissez-faire "if he dies, he dies" attitude, or it could be lethal intent. Without mindreading, we can't tell the difference.
Either one's pretty bad, and at the very least, I feel like the former is pretty cut-and-dry "manslaughter". I think we've got a few degrees of murder it also qualifies for - in fact, I think the description of what is often "third degree murder (aka Depraved-Heart murder)" is pretty close:
Probably depraved indifference murder, unless shooting the gun at the house was a felony, then probably felony murder.
How are they not being prosecuted too?
Billings said she first learned of the swatting when a neighbor called and asked why the street was lined with police cars. When Mr. Herring stepped out on the back porch to investigate, police told him to put his hands up and to come to the street.
Unable to disengage a lock on his back fence, Herring was instructed to somehow climb over the fence with his hands up.
“He was starting to get more upset,” Billings recalled. “He said, ‘I’m a 60-year-old fat man and I can’t do that.'”
Oddly enough, killing a person is also a crime if you didn't want the situation to play like that. It's called manslaughter when you do it, why is it not for the police?
Driving drunk, and killing people, are both illegal. What is being permitted, exactly?
That said, I do think punitive acts against drunk driving may not change much so long as it's much more cheap/convenient to drive yourself instead of using public transit/rideshares/carpooling. There's also the issue of binge drinking being so commonplace in the States.
In civilized countries, the minimum sentence for manslaughter is 5 years, and that's handed out when two friends are blind drunk and one stabs the other while arguing about soccer.
So, it seems like statute requires updating to increase the maximum sentence permitted for such crimes. Another question is: would that dissuade these attacks by these actors? I'm unsure.
Call your representative(s). While the American justice system leaves much to be desired, I don't think more time for effectively ordering a hit through social engineering is excessively punitive. Ross Ulbricht of Silk Road fame is doing far more time, in part, for paying someone to perform a hit that didn't take place (it was a factor in affirming his life sentence)  .
I’m fairly sure those charges were dropped and did not come up at trial.
Say you’re on your way to pay the murder-for-hire when you accidentally run over your intended victim while checking HN on your phone. You admit to everything. Which part should contribute more to your prison sentence?
Let's please make an example of these lowlifes that think abusing public safety resources is an acceptable way to "get" people they disagree with.
Even though there have been a few cases such as this, the victim’s death is just too rare to assume that that as the intended outcome. A swat raid on an innocent person should, in any civilized society, never end with death. For vast swaths of the democratic world, that’s also our experience, proofing that it’s not impossible.
It’s a negligent homicide, and I would place a significant chunk of the guilt on the police. Punishing them so,klar to, say, drunk drivers that kill someone seems about right. And two years in prison aren’t a “slap on the wrist”.
And the harassment in this case isn't even trolling or a grudge between two people, this is harassment for ransom of property and valuable assets from the target, in this case, valuable Twitter handles.
You're being downvoted. I cannot fathom the kind of thought process it takes to downvote you for this statement.
This was a heinous crime that should have been prosecuted as first degree murder.
I downvoted your post because complaining about downvotes is frowned upon here. (I've done it. I got downvoted for it. It's how it goes.)
this thinking lets people escape convictions that would've been a sure thing if they were prosecuted for second degree.
"first degree" doesn't just mean "we punish them more", there are specific requirements for it. and if the facts don't fit the requirements, the defense will explain that _very_ _clearly_ to the jury and you'll have a difficult time getting a conviction. juries are not as excited about handing out first degree murder convictions as you might think.
Reacted before getting the facts right, my bad
Nothing particularly new here. That's generally how you convict people who get other people to do their dirty work.
Well, the __solution__ is to talk about how we should rewrite the law. To rewrite the law, we should first understand this case entirely.
This is just one man in an entire conspiracy group who seemed to seek profits from conducting ransom attacks. If you don't pay a ransom, you'll be doxxed and somebody out there will probably SWAT you for fun.
There's levels of indirection here, as if they're trying to minimize the hit they'll take as they go to jail. And it seems largely successful. So the next step is to start making proposals for how the law should be written (and then to get those drafts to the lawmakers).
This is a non-political issue that won't really get stuck. I'm simply trying to start the political process and law crafting needed to fix this problem in the future.
Is the problem on Discord for having unsupervised meetup spots where these kinds of conspiracies can grow? How do people join groups like this? Is there a way we can get the Police to attack these groups before further incidents come out? Etc. etc.