WATERTOWN — An assemblyman and state senator introduced legislation Friday that would establish harsher punishments for those who make false reports that draw a large response from police and other first responders, also known as “swatting.”
The new legislation, announced by Assemblyman Mark Walczyk, R-Watertown, and Sen. Patricia Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, would amend the state’s penal law to make swatting a Class E felony.
“Instead of just making it a misdemeanor, they’re making it a felony,” said Joe Soluri of Watertown, a victim of multiple swatting attempts. “I think it’s exactly what they need to do.”
Mr. Soluri has lived on Boyd Street for nearly 65 years. In recent months, he and his family have been the victims of swatting more than a dozen times. It started in early August with a video game, he said. His grandson was playing Minecraft online against another person living outside the country. Mr. Soluri said his grandson won the game, so the loser decided to start sending false reports about the grandson. The first two swatting instances drew a large number of police officers to his house, he said. The first swatting occurred when a false report of Mr. Soluri’s grandson stabbing his mother was received by police.
The second swatting included a false report saying his grandson shot his father. Each time, Mr. Soluri’s daughter and the boy’s mother, April Secor, who lives with him, was told to come out of the house with her hands up while officers had long guns aimed at her.
The second time they were swatted, Ms. Secor was ordered to come out of her house and walk down the road to the corner of her street with her hands in the air. Mr. Soluri then exited the house after his daughter.
“They said ‘put your hands up,’” he said, “and I said (expletive) you.’”
From down the street, his daughter pleaded with him to get back in the house, so he did.
“I called the mayor and I told him I’m getting sick of this (expletive),” Mr. Soluri said. The swatting, however, has continued, Mr. Soluri said. The false reports range from a pizza they never ordered being delivered, to their church being called and told Mr. Soluri’s grandson was going to “shoot up the place.” There was also an occurrence in which a false report claimed his grandson was going to “shoot up” the Samaritan Medical Center, Mr. Soluri said.
After the initial incidents, Detective Lt. Joseph Donoghue of city police expressed sympathy for Ms. Secor and her family, saying his department was in a difficult position.
“I feel for her,” he said in an Aug. 3 story reported by the Watertown Daily Times. “The position she’s in, and for the police and EMTs and first responders for the position they find themselves in.”
Now, police call Mr. Soluri’s household whenever they suspect another swatting. They still send officers, however it’s a much smaller response.
“At least we know they’re coming,” Mr. Soluri said. “They’re not coming with all the guns like they did the first two-three times.”
In a news release issued this week, Mr. Donoghue said his department has fielded a number of swatting calls in recent months.
“... These false reports pull officers away from protecting the public,” he said. “I’d like to thank Assemblyman Walczyk and Sen. Ritchie for sponsoring this legislation, which I hope will deter future ‘swatting’ calls.”
Kristyna Mills, the Jefferson County district attorney, said in a news release that swatting is a persistent problem in the area.
“This legislation is fundamental for the safety of the community,” she wrote. “and I thank Assemblyman Walczyk and Sen. Ritchie for their commitment to mitigating this issue.”