In the summer of 2014, someone claiming to be professional gamer Jordan Mathewson called Littleton police and told them he’d shot his coworkers. Within minutes, heavily armed officers were headed to his office.
Inside, the real Mathewson was at work, streaming himself as he played an online shooter game. Then the violence became real. Mathewson’s webcam captured the whole incident as police burst in and trained their rifles on him, forcing him to the ground. More first responders waited outside. Nearby schools went into lockdown.
But there was no shooting, no threat, just a very dangerous prank aimed at Mathewson, who is known online as Kootra.
“It's just a total waste of time and personnel and staffing,” says Littleton Police Chief Doug Stephens, of the crime known as swatting. “And, not to mention, it's just a potential for tragedy every time.”
A Wichita man was killed in a swatting incident in December. What disturbs Stephens is that the swatters, and sometimes even the victims, don't take the act seriously.
“It's like an another component of the online game with no repercussions,” he says.
All of this is why Stephens testified in favor of a new Colorado measure to stiffen the penalties for what is technically known as a false report of an imminent threat to public safety under certain circumstances. Under the bill — SB18-068 — if the swatting call results in evacuations, injuries, or death, the caller would face felony charges.
My heart goes out to the family who had to experience losing someone due to swatting. What starts as a sick joke turns into a terrifying ordeal, and in this case, becomes a tragedy. Come on people, video games should bring people joy not make them fear for their lives :(
— Jordan (@Kootra) December 31, 2017
Republican state Sen. John Cooke, the bill’s sponsor, hopes the legislation sends a clear message to would-be swatters.
“You are going to be facing serious charges if you continue do that, and if someone gets hurt, then you're going to be held accountable as if you were the one who actually did the assault,” Cooke says.
Some are urging caution though, to be sure the bill only has prosecutors going after truly malicious swatters, and not those who make false reports becomes of mental illness.
“It's always a concern if you have too wide of net,” said Carry Lynn Thompson with the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar.