David C. Weiss, United States Attorney for the District of Delaware, announced today that a federal grand jury charged Rodney Phipps, 29, of Georgetown, with harassing individuals across the country by telephone, through a process known as “swatting.” “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 allegations in the Indictment, from in or around August 2015 through August 2017, Phipps placed swatting calls from Delaware to police departments and emergency dispatch centers across the country, including calls to Harrison, New Jersey; Opelousas, Louisiana; Russel County, Kentucky; Pasco County, Florida; and Forsyth County, Georgia, said Weiss. Those swatting calls included false reports that murder, shooting incidents, arson, and a hostage situation had taken place or would take place.
Weiss went on to say many of the calls also contained explicit threats that the caller would shoot with a firearm any law enforcement personnel who responded to the emergency call. In several instances, those hoax calls provoked significant law enforcement responses to the purported victim’s residences.
The Indictment charges Phipps with five counts of making interstate threats and one count of making a false threat involving explosives. The interstate threat charges carry a five-year maximum term of imprisonment. The false threat involving explosives charge carries a ten-year maximum term of imprisonment.
U.S. Attorney Weiss stated, “Swatting phone calls have the potential to put the lives of law enforcement officers, the intended victim, and innocent bystanders at risk. Responding to such calls also misdirects resources from local law enforcement and emergency service agencies that could have been used for legitimate emergencies. My office will prosecute those who engage in swatting activity to the fullest extent allowed by law.”
“As alleged, Mr. Phipps orchestrated an extensive, multi-faceted swatting campaign that caused a significant amount of angst, alarm, and unnecessary expenditure of limited law enforcement resources,” said Special Agent in Charge Jennifer C. Boone, FBI Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI Baltimore Cyber Task Force, working jointly with the Delaware State Police – Troop 4, the Georgetown Delaware Police Department, and the Delaware United States Attorney’s Office hope this arrest will deter others from engaging in similar criminal conduct.”
This case is being investigated by FBI-Baltimore Division’s Wilmington Office and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Jesse S. Wenger.
An indictment is merely a formal charge that a defendant has committed a violation of criminal laws and every defendant is presumed innocent until, and unless, proven guilty, added Weiss.