Georgetown man sentenced in ‘swatting’ incidents

WILMINGTON — A 30-year-old Georgetown man was sentenced to 37 months in prison Wednesday for making hoax emergency calls to police departments and emergency dispatch centers across the country, authorities said.

Rodney Phipps had pleaded guilty in January to five counts of making interstate threats and one count of making a false threat involving explosives in relation to a string of “swatting” phone calls, U.S. Attorney for the District of Delaware David C. Weiss said in a news release.

According to Mr. Weiss, “‘Swatting’ involves making hoax emergency calls in order to elicit an armed police response (e.g., from a SWAT team) for the purpose of harassing someone believed to be at the location of the purported emergency.”

According to court documents, from August 2015 through August 2017, Phipps placed swatting calls from Delaware to police departments and emergency dispatch centers across the country, including to Harrison, New Jersey; Opelousas, Louisiana; Russell County, Kentucky; Pasco County, Florida; and Forsyth County, Georgia. Those swatting calls included false reports that murder, shooting incidents, arson and a hostage situation had taken place or would take place, Mr. Weiss said.

Many of the calls also contained explicit threats that the caller would shoot any law enforcement personnel who responded to the emergency call, Mr. Weiss said. In several instances, those hoax calls provoked significant law enforcement responses to the purported victim’s residences, according to the news release.

“Swatting phone calls are not harmless pranks,” Mr. Weiss said. “Those who engage in swatting activity intentionally create a serious risk of physical harm to law enforcement officers, the intended victims, and innocent bystanders.

“Swatting calls also disrupt the operations of local emergency response agencies by misdirecting resources that could be needed for legitimate emergencies. My office will continue to prosecute those who engage in swatting activity to the fullest extent allowed by law and will seek sentences that reflect the serious danger created by such conduct.”

Also, said Jennifer C. Boone, special agent in charge of the FBI Baltimore field office: “These calls are dangerous not only to the victims but, also, to first responders who are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents try to defend themselves. The communities are also placed in danger, as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies.

“The FBI works closely with law enforcement partners and continues to collect investigative information to help identify key individuals and groups conducting swatting incidents such as today’s sentence reflects. We will continue such efforts to stop these crimes and perpetrators from continuing these dangerous hoaxes.”

The case is being investigated by FBI-Baltimore Division’s Wilmington Resident Office and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesse S. Wenger.