Is swatting a crime in Wisconsin?

2021 update: Wis. Stat. sec. 947.014 prohibits swatting

In 2019 we published a blog post discussing swatting in Wisconsin.  While most of the blog post (still listed below) is still relevant, swatting is now a crime in Wisconsin.

Section 947.014 of the Wisconsin Statutes makes clear:

  • Firstly: 947.014(2) Whoever, knowing the information to be false, intentionally conveys, or causes to be conveyed, any false information that an emergency exists is guilty of a Class I felony if the information elicits, or could elicit, a response from a specialized tactical team.
  • 947.014(3) Whoever violates sub. (2) is guilty of a Class H felony if the violation resulted in bodily harm to any person of a Class E felony if the violation resulted in great bodily harm to any person.

While most of this blog post certainly remains relevant, this statute subjects the defendant to additional liability.

While not specifically codified, swatting is certainly a crime in Wisconsin.

Swatting is falsely reporting an emergency to law enforcement with the intent of getting a police response, when no emergency exists.  The calling party frequently reports they are involved or nearby as a witness to home invasion, active shooter, or hostage situation.  The caller encourages police to muster the largest response possible.  Often, the police response is substantial.  The victim of swatting is generally encountered at gunpoint.

Swatting is a crime in Wisconsin.  While not specifically codified, this conduct arguable satisfies the statutory requirements for numerous crimes.  Obstructing an officer, recklessly endangering safety, and unlawful use of computerized communication systems are all potential charges.

Finally, if you are charged with any crime, contact Van Severen Law Office immediately.  Our top criminal defense attorneys have defended charges just like this.  So reach us 24/7 at (414) 270-0202.

How often does swatting happen?

In July 2019, professional Fortnite player Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf won $3 million at the Fortnite World Cup.  A few weeks later, armed police officers surrounded Giersdorf’s house.  With guns drawn, officers made contact with Giersdorf’s father.  He had been swatted.  Thankfully, one of the officers lived down the street from Giersdorf and the situation quickly de-escalated.

In 2017 police responded to a prank 911 call from California, which indicated a shooting and kidnapping happened in Andrew Finch’s Wichita, Kansas home.  Police responded.  They surrounded Finch’s house and called him out.  While police shouted commands at Finch, and as he exited his home, police fired on him.

free consultation client testimonials

Swatting happens in Wisconsin.

In July 2019 police responded to a Madison condo for a swatting call.  Law enforcement was advised that a woman had barricaded herself inside the condo with a gun.  The caller claimed to be the mother of the swatting victim.  Thankfully, police de-escalated the situation when the actual condo-owner arrived home.  She advised police her daughter lived in a different start.  Lastly, this call wasn’t connected to video games (as it usually is).  The victim in this case had recently ended a relationship and it was suspected her ex made the call.

A swat team confronts a dangerous situation. Is this criminal?
Swatting, depending on the circumstances, is illegal in Wisconsin.

What’s illegal about swatting?

Police recommend various charges in swatting situations.  Whether the DA pursues those charges is another question, but below we discuss a few we’ve encountered:

Obstructing an officer

Obstructing an officer is prohibited in section 946.41 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  “Obstructs” includes without limitation knowingly giving false information to the officer or knowingly placing physical evidence with intent to mislead the officer in the performance of his or her duty…” Wis. Stat. sec. 946.41(2)(a).  So prosecutors must prove certain elements of the offense at trial (Wisconsin JI-Criminal 1766):

  1. The defendant obstructed an officer; and
  2. The officer was doing an act in an official capacity; and
  3. The officer was acting with lawful authority; and
  4. The defendant knew that the officer was an officer acting in an official capacity and with lawful authority and that the defendant knew his conduct would obstruct that officer.

Additionally, to obstruct an officer means that the conduct of the defendant prevents or makes more difficult the performance of the officer’s duties.

Recklessly endangering safety

Secondly, recklessly endangering safety is a crime prohibited in section 941.30 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  The statute indicates it’s a crime when an individual recklessly endangers another’s safety.  First degree recklessly endangering safety requires that the defendant act “under circumstances which show utter disregard for human life.”  First degree recklessly endangering safety is a Class F felony.  Second degree recklessly endangering safety is a Class G felony.  Finally, prosecutors must prove certain elements of the offense at trial (Wisconsin JI-Criminal 1345, 1347):

  1. The defendant endangered the safety of another human being; and
  2. The defendant endangered the safety of another by criminally reckless conduct; and (only for 1st degree)
  3. The circumstances of the defendant’s conduct showed utter disregard for human life.

Criminally reckless conduct means:

  1. The conduct created a risk of death or great bodily harm to another person; and
  2. The risk of death or great bodily harm was unreasonable and substantial; and
  3. The defendant was aware that his conduct created the unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm.

How do they show “utter disregard for human life”?

Furthermore, to determine whether the defendant acted with utter disregard for human life, the jury considers a few factors: What the defendant did; why the defendant engaged in that conduct; how dangerous the conduct was; how obvious the danger was; whether the conduct showed any regard for life; and all other circumstances surrounding the incident.

How is recklessly endangering safety “swatting”?

Arguably swatting satisfies the elements of 1st degree recklessly endangering safety:

  • First, the defendant endangered the safety of another human being.  The goal of swatting is to elicit an armed police response.  Second, the goal is for police to believe there’s an active hostage/shooting/criminal situation going on.  The defendant endangered the victim by eliciting this aggressive response.
  • Secondly, the defendant endangered the safety of the victim by criminally reckless conduct.  Armed police officers storming a house with weapons drawn creates a serious risk of death or great bodily harm by gunshot.  Police point their weapons at the victim – this is an unreasonable and substantial risk.  Concluding, the defendant’s goal was for this response – his goal was to create an unreasonable and substantial risk of death or great bodily harm.
  • Thirdly, the circumstances showed utter disregard for the victim’s life.  Swatting is a prank.  The goal is an armed police response.  Again, the defendant knew exactly what he was doing when he arranged for the strong police response.

Unlawful use of a computerized communication system

Thirdly, unlawful use of a computerized communication system is a crime prohibited in section 947.0125 of the Wisconsin Statutes.  Section 947.0125(2)(e) is most relevant to swatting.  It requires:

  1. The defendant sent a message to the victim on a computerized communication system; and
  2. The defendant sent the message to the victim with intent to frighten, intimidate, threaten, or abuse the victim; and
  3. Finally, the defendant intentionally prevents, or attempts to prevent, the disclosure of his own identity.

This crime focuses on the original contact to law enforcement, so long as the defendant used a computerized communication system.

Charged with swatting?  Contact a top Milwaukee criminal defense attorney.

You are not guilty unless convicted.  Correspondingly, as this article shows, our criminal defense attorneys understand how complex situations like these are.  There are numerous charges that an individual who commits swatting faces.

For those very reasons, we believe that hiring an excellent defense lawyer is crucial.  Finally, contact Van Severen Law Office for swatting representation.  We answer phones 24/7 at (414) 270-0202.

icon-angle icon-bars icon-times