June 14, 2018 / 6:54 PM / a year ago

Two men plead not guilty in U.S. court in Kansas in 'swatting' death

(Reuters) - Two men have pleaded not guilty in federal court in Kansas after they were accused of escalating an online video gaming spat into falsely reporting an emergency, leading police to kill an unarmed man, according to court records.

FILE PHOTO: Tyler Barriss, 25, appears in court for his extradition hearing in Los Angeles, California U.S. January 3, 2018. REUTERS/Irfan Khan/Pool/File Photo

Shane Gaskill, 19, of Wichita, Kansas, and Casey Viner, 18, from a suburb of Cincinnati, pleaded not guilty on Wednesday and remained free on $10,000 bond, court records showed. Both of the suspects live with their parents, local media reported.

In the so-called “swatting” incident, in which someone falsely reports an emergency requiring a police response, Viner got upset at Gaskill over a video game they played online, federal prosecutors said, and Viner contacted a known “swatter” to punish Gaskill.

Prosecutors identified the “swatter” as Tyler Barriss, 25, of Los Angeles, who was being held on Thursday on $500,000 bond in a Kansas jail. He also faces state charges including manslaughter.

The state of Kansas will go ahead with its case against Barriss before he faces an array of federal charges, Jim Cross, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in Kansas, told Reuters.

The federal charges against Barriss include threatening to kill someone, cyber stalking and offering false information in a hoax. The hoax charge can come with a life sentence.

Barriss, using a false name, telephoned Wichita authorities and reported that he shot and killed his father, was holding his mother and brother at gunpoint, threatening to set the house on fire and commit suicide, authorities said.

A Wichita police officer fatally shot another man, Andrew Finch, 28, after law enforcement officials rushed to his home following the false reports.

On Dec. 28, Viner, upset at Gaskill, contacted Barriss and asked him to make the false report to police at an address that had been provided by Gaskill. Viner did not know that Gaskill no longer lived at the address, but Gaskill knew, prosecutors said.

After media reports of the shooting, Gaskill urged Barriss to delete their communications and Viner wiped his phone, according to the indictment.

Attorneys for Viner declined to comment, while attorneys for Barriss and Gaskill could not bed reached immediately.

Barriss and Viner face federal charges of conspiracy and several counts of wire fraud. Viner and Gaskill were charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and Gaskill was also charged with wire fraud and additional counts of obstruction of justice.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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