SWATting? What the heck is that? Star, Idaho, resident David Fix knows. He has had an up close and personal view of it and he did not enjoy the experience.
The term is a not-so-veiled reference to the actions of police SWAT teams, which descend in force to a perceived problem that may require an overpowering police presence.
SWATting, with the first reported case coming in 2002, is a growing problem both for law enforcement and for high-profile individuals whose online activism are garnering a type of attention they never anticipated. SWATting occurs when someone—usually anonymously or using a fake identity—calls in a false report to local law enforcement that a serious crime has been committed or is currently being committed. The caller is usually unknown and cannot be traced.
Often a caller will use voice over (VOIP) connections between the caller's computer and a distant telephone network, and then dial 911. This sleight of hand enables the caller to hide his identity (telephone number and address). That makes it virtually impossible for emergency dispatchers to identify or track the call.
Police, as they are trained to do, respond to emergencies quickly and in force and the unknowing target ends up with a massive headache involving an unexpected police raid and an unforeseen interrogation. Meanwhile, the one who called in the tip sits back and imagines the fireworks from the comfort of anonymity.
First reported by Breitbart News earlier this year and later acknowledged by Fox News and the Washington Times, SWATting attacks have targeted a number of high-profile national bloggers.
The tactic has become such a concern that in June 85 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Eric Holder, attorney general, asking that his office look into whether any federal laws have been violated by those persons using SWATting to stifle free speech and to prosecute the cases accordingly. Neither of Idaho two representatives, Raul Labrador or Mike Simpson, signed the letter.
Now one of the 6,000 residents from the small town of Star has his own SWATting story.
Fix says he was watching TV with his wife shortly after midnight July 6 when he was startled by a loud pounding on the door. He opened it to find two uniformed officers demanding to know if everything was "all right." They said that there had been a report that a child was "screaming for help" and that the sound was coming from his house.
Fix says he assured them that everything was fine, but was cut off and asked if police could enter his house. He says he replied, "No. You may not," but says he was shoved aside by an officer who forced his way into the house. Fix insisted that the officers had no right to enter and needed to leave immediately. Fix says an officer then grabbed his wrist, twisted his arm behind him and shoved him into a wall while screaming that he better not "touch him."
Fix says he never touched the officer and wonders if perhaps the officer was recording the encounter and made the "theatric" statement in an attempt to provide some cover for the unwarranted assault.
Fix says the officer eventually released him and demanded that he awaken all his children and present them to the officers for inspection. Both of his teenage daughters, Fix said, were separated from their parents and interrogated — one of them was even taken outside the house to be questioned. According to Fix, the officers performed a room-to-room search of the entire house before eventually leaving without taking anyone into custody or issuing any citations. he maintains they never identified the source of their tip or even revealed if they knew the identity of who had called in the report.
Fix insists he has no idea why someone would have called in the fictitious story or if it might have been done with the intent to target him personally. "I'm not going to deny that I write a lot on many different blogs and such." He added, "I don't advocate violence, so it [intentionally targeting him] would be absurd to me."
Attempts to identify the source of the tip that led to Fix's midnight encounter have so far proven fruitless. Fix says he spoke with the Star City Council and with Star's chief of police, but no one has given him any clue as to who called in the report.
IdahoReporter.com filed a public information request with the Ada County Sheriff's Office asking for information regarding this incident, but was met with a letter from an attorney stating that the requested information was "exempt" from disclosure and that the request was denied. The letter also stated that the denial could only be appealed by filing a petition in the "Fourth Judicial District Court."
The exemption cited by the sheriff's office is apparently based on Idaho Code 9-335(3). The letter states, "Your request for police reports related to the July 6, 2012, incident involving David Fix is denied (based on Idaho Code) … which exempts police reports from disclosure under the Idaho Public Records Act. This specific provision is applicable to investigatory records that involve uncharged allegations of criminal conduct. In situations like this where the investigation has not yet resulted in an arrest or criminal charges filed, the records are not public to protect the privacy of the involved parties."
A separate request for information regarding a "protocol to protect citizens against a false report" or the "procedure to protect homeowners from police entering based solely on a report from a third party" was also filed by IdahoReporter.com. A response came from the "Chief Legal Advisor" for the Ada County Sheriff's Office. "The Ada County Sheriff's Office does not have a written policy specific to the situation you reference. A private attorney could advise you on your rights under the situation you reference."
Fix is troubled by the "egregious" invasion of his property and says the entire event "boggles the mind." He also worries about what may happen next. "I don't look for incidents," he said. "It came looking for me."