POLITICS

B.C. teen accused of 'swatting,' setting off false alarms for Florida police

12/10/2014 06:47 EST | Updated 02/09/2015 05:59 EST
COQUITLAM, B.C. - A British Columbia teenager whose alleged prank phone calls and emails forced Florida police to lockdown a high school and send canine units and a helicopter to a home is now facing criminal charges.

The 17-year-old boy from the Metro Vancouver suburb of Coquitlam is scheduled to appear in court Dec. 18 on charges of extortion, public mischief and breach of recognizance.

The allegations stem from so-called "swatting" incidents in Fort Meade and Winter Haven, Fla. between September and November.

"Swatting" is a prank phone call or email that's placed to police and is meant to draw Special Weapons and Tactics teams, or SWAT teams, to a scene.

"This young man's criminal acts tied up police resources that could have been deployed to actual emergencies and severely impacted the sense of safety and security for everyone living in the communities of Winter Haven and Fort Meade," said RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Annie Linteau in a news release.

"False reports of critical incidents are very serious and potentially very dangerous. That's why police proceed with investigations against those involved."

While the teen can't be named under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, Mounties said he is known to police in B.C. and Ontario and has pleaded guilty in the past to criminal harassment charges.

The Polk County Sheriff's Office said in a news release that its investigation began in September, when a unknown male called a police communications' centre and threatened to drive to a local high school in a black van and shoot everybody.

The school was locked down, and officers spent hours searching for an armed suspect before they identified a Canadian teen through a local witness, said the sheriff's office.

The second incident occurred in October and drew a similar police response, after the suspect allegedly emailed the same school and threatened to "blow everyone up," the office said.

The sheriff's office said the suspect told the same witness he was going to "swat" her school.

A police helicopter and canine units were then called to the Winter Haven home of the witness in November, when the suspect called an emergency dispatcher and said he had killed his parents, was inside the residence and would shoot law-enforcement officers, said the sheriff's office.

The sheriff's office said when police arrived on the scene, the juvenile witness inside the home told them it was a "swat" hoax.

The sheriff's office contacted the RCMP earlier this month, sparking a joint investigation that Florida police said resulted in a search warrant being served on the suspect's home Dec. 6.

"The Canadian suspect is an experienced computer programmer known to Canadian law enforcement authorities, and is on probation for similar crimes in Canada," said the sheriff's office in a news release.

"One of the conditions of his probation is supervised use of computers."

Linteau said the teen pleaded guilty to two counts of criminal harassment related to an incident in North Vancouver in October 2013 and an unrelated incident in Waterloo, Ont., in January 2014.

She said in both cases, the teen harassed young women he met online and will appear for a sentencing hearing on those charges in January 2015.

Linteau said police are investigating additional allegations against the same teen and more charges are expected.