BRADENTON — People from all over the world were watching Twitch.TV live streamer LaggySpork playing Minecraft at 6:45 a.m. Sunday when a dozen armed Bradenton Police Department officers stormed into his living room.
Unknown to LaggySpork, the online moniker for Lakeside South resident Mike Dolen , a Bradenton computer whiz who makes extra money playing Minecraft and other video games for an online audience, someone called the police claiming her father had a machine gun, her mother had just been shot and she was hiding in a closet.
Police traced the call to the Dolen’s home in the 3700 block of 43rd Avenue West off Cortez Road, but it turned out to be a prank called “swatting,” said Bradenton Police Chief Michael Radzilowski.
Swatting is when someone leads emergency services on a wild-goose chase, sometimes using cell phone technology called “spoofing,” to make it seem as if the call is coming from a victim’s home, Dolen said after the incident.
The purpose of “swatting” is to put the victim in a position to get injured or worse by police, he said.
“I could have been killed,” said Dolen, a lifelong Bradenton resident who attended Gocio Elementary School , graduated from Bayshore High School in 2002 and makes his living helping small companies attain better Google search engine positions and fixing computers through his own Manatee company, ETMT, which stands for Evolving Techniques & Modifying Technology.
Dolen said he was not injured because BPD officers did not shoot, stomp or tackle him when they broke in, although many aimed drawn guns at him.“They were very polite after they realized something wasn’t right,” Dolen said, indicating he has seen videos of swatting victims being roughed up. “I was impressed with the level of professionalism. They made sure my kids were all right. They all were very apologetic. They hugged my daughters.”Dolen was asked by police if he had made a Minecraft enemy. He said he told them he has no idea who might want to harm him. During a YouTube video of the dramatic raid, as a shocked Dolen holds his hands in the air, one can hear a gamer say online: “Did he just get swatted?”Swatting is extremely dangerous because the SWAT team does not know it’s a prank and goes into the situation thinking deadly force might be needed to save a life, Dolen said. “Most swatting victims get put in handcuffs and cursed at, which never happened with the Bradenton police,” Dolen said. “They even let me switch off my live feed, which never happens when gamers get swatted. It renewed my faith in law enforcement.”
When Dolen’s front door gives way with a loud bang, an officer can be heard yelling “Hands up!” on the live feed, which Dolen recorded. He immediately complies. The officer repeatedly asks his address.
“They were trying to see if they were at the wrong house because it wasn’t what they expected,” Dolen said.Several seconds later, officers begin to realize it is a prank and stand down.
The Bradenton Police Department SWAT team was on its way but did not come into his house, Dolen added.
“Had they come I don’t know if I would be here because they aren’t trained so much to assess as to react,” Dolen said.There were 30 police cruisers circling the block at one point, Dolen said.
When the door was bashed, Dolen’s wife, Amber, and the two oldest of his three daughters, ages 8. 7 and 4, woke up. The 4-year-old slept through it all.
“It was pure terror for my wife and daughters,” Dolen said.
The technology to fool the police’s caller ID apparently isn’t complex.
“It would be as if I sent a letter to your mom and put your address on it like it came from you,” Dolen said. “Your mom would think she is getting a letter from you, but I wrote it. In this case, a person can call the police from their phone and on the phone ID at the police department it looks like the victim’s phone not theirs. The technology requires just a piece of spoofing software to hide or change their information temporarily.”
The incident began when the BPD received a call from a purported 12-year-old girl who said her father had a machine gun and other weapons and was drunk at her home, according to a BPD report.
The caller then reported hearing a single shot, said her mother was not moving and was laying on the kitchen floor, according to the BPD report.The caller said she was going to a closet to hide as patrol officers had already responded to the home. Emergency medical services responded and was staging in the area, too.
The caller said the father was still armed and had entered the room where she was hiding, according to the report.
At the moment the caller said the perpetrator had entered her room, patrol officers decided to break through the front door to find Dolen at his computer.
Dolen, who can be found at Twitch.TV/Laggyspork, said he started live streaming to raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
The investigation is ongoing. The identity of the malicious prank caller remains unknown.