Undersheriff says suicide standoff was a prank call

August 22, 2018

A man called Teton County’s 911 dispatch on Monday and pretended to be on the brink of suicide inside a room at Flat Creek Inn.

He told dispatchers he was armed and wanted to hurt himself and others.

What police are now calling a “swatting” incident resulted in a two-hour standoff with nobody. The “prank” preoccupied close to 20 law enforcement personnel.

“I was in dispatch when the call came in,” Teton County Undersheriff Matt Carr said. “They were very convincing.”

Guests of the hotel were evacuated and police blocked off the parking lot and got in position with rifles and bulletproof vests.

Early efforts to negotiate with the man were unsuccessful, police said. The distraught caller even gave his first name and room number, they said, which matched the name of the person who rented the room.

When officers approached the room, no one was there.

“We believe the person who’s doing this is doing it to be able to see emergency personnel running around chasing these calls,” Carr said.

Swatting — from SWAT — is the term used when someone makes a false call for emergency services, and it’s happening all over the country.

Similar calls have been reported in Powell as well as in Spearfish, South Dakota, and Selena, Kansas, according to a representative with the Powell Police Department.

Earlier this month Jackson police officers responded to several prank calls for felonies in progress.

Investigators believe the suspects are watching webcams that are placed around the valley and calling in fake emergencies to be able to watch live as police respond.

The Jackson Police Department has identified a suspect in their earlier cases but it’s unlikely that the same person made Monday’s Flat Creek Inn call.

All the locations where the suspects have called in false emergencies can be seen from See Jackson Hole webcams, Schultz said.

“After the first few, we recognized they were not legitimate calls, so we stopped responding with lights and sirens, but we still responded to each call to verify if it was a false report or not,” said Jackson police Lt. Roger Schultz.

Suspects have called in two robberies, shots fired, claimed twice that someone was throwing bricks through windows and now pretended to be a suicidal man barricaded in a room, possibly with hostages.

Suspects caught swatting can be charged with false reporting or disturbing emergency services. There are state and federal charges.

The Teton County Sheriff’s Office is investigating Monday’s false suicide threat.

It is tracking a cellphone number from Florida, Carr said.

The Jackson Police Department is still investigating its prank calls and is tracking a suspect in Ohio.

The incident Monday afternoon paused all business at Flat Creek Inn and its adjacent gas station for more than two hours while the property was on lockdown.

“People couldn’t come in and we couldn’t sell anything,” general manager Kyle Eggett said. “It was like the perfect storm because we had check-in times, housekeepers were trying to get their last rooms done, and we had a fuel truck come in. It was frustrating.”

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