WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — More than five years after a police officer shot and killed Andrew Finch, the City of Wichita has agreed to a $5 million settlement in the case.
On Tuesday, the Wichita City Council voted 6-1 to approve $5 million as a “full and complete settlement of all possible claims arising” out of his death.
On Dec. 28, 2017, the Wichita Police Department (WPD) was sent to the Finch home because someone had reported a murder and hostage situation at the house. At the time, the officers did not know it was a hoax call, often called “swatting.”
Finch went to the home’s front porch to talk to officers. During their interaction, officer Justin Rapp fired at him, and Finch died. Rapp initially told detectives that he thought Finch had a gun but testified later that he didn’t see a weapon and shot him based on his hand motions.
“It’s sad cause a young man’s life was taken away. He was in the sanctity of his own home. He was unarmed and shot and killed,” said Andrew M. Stroth with Action Injury Law Group, Lead Council for the Finch Family.
This is how the $5 million settlement breaks down:
- $3,222,868.66 (66.66%) for the family
- $1,222,868.66 to a restricted account for the Estate of Andrew Finch
- $1,000,000 structured settlement annuities for one of his children, meaning the money will go to the child in increments over time
- $1,000,000 structured settlement annuities for his other child
- $1,611,192.63 in attorney fees
- $1,361,192.63 payable to Action Injury Law Group LLC
- $250,000 paid for a structured settlement annuity for Andrew M Stroth
- $165,938.71 — Payable to Action Injury Law Group LLC for attorneys’ out-of-pocket costs and expenses
The City pays $1,556,757.10 from its funds, and The Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania will pay the rest.
AlmaAnn Jones, a spokesperson for the family, said she is grateful for the decision.
“It has been difficult, to say the very least,” she said. “I’ve watched this family through disappointment after disappointment, and finally, today, we came together as a community. We got this done.”
She also read a statement from the mother of Finch’s children:
I would like to express my thanks and gratitude to the activists who fought for myself and my children for five long years. To the mayor and council who voted in favor of my children, thank you for making sure my family can move on from this nightmare and begin to heal. We will never forget or understand why our Andy had to die but we are grateful for all the support we’ve received from the community. Thank you.”The mother of Andrew Finch’s children
Council discusses the settlement
The City Council brought up the topic of the settlement after being in an executive session. When they returned to the regular meeting, Council Member Brandon Johnson made the motion for the settlement, and Vice Mayor Mike Hoheisel seconded it.
Mayor Brandon Whipple then invited discussion on the topic.
City Council Member Jeff Blubaugh asked the City’s legal counsel what information could be shared from the executive session or any court proceedings that have happened in relation to Finch’s death.
Sharon Dickgrafe, chief deputy city attorney, then shared some details. She said the legal fees for the City were $443,000, while legal fees for the plaintiffs were $1.6 million.
She then went over the litigation, saying two cases were filed in state court and one was filed in federal court.
Dickgrafe said one in state court dealt with the detention of Finch’s mother and another individual. The court dismissed the case in November 2021, finding that the officers had qualified immunity.
Another action was filed on behalf of the children and the estate in November 2019. In March 2022, the court found Rapp had immunity and dismissed the case.
“The last case, which is the one that settlement is proposed today, was filed in Jan. of 2018. The case – motion for summary judgment was filed. Summary judgment was not granted in reference to Officer Rapp but was granted for everyone else,” Dickgrafe said. “The case went to the 10th Circuit, came back from the 10th Circuit. Currently, there is a motion for summary judgment pending, alleging ‘res judicata’ or ‘estoppel’ of the state court’s finding that officer Rapp had immunity.”
She said there is no way of knowing when the court will issue that judgment.
Blubaugh then asked if the Council could discuss how the amount of money was determined.
Dickgrafe said the dollar amount was negotiated during mediation, that Council Member Johnson was involved, and the City’s excess insurance carrier was heavily involved in the conversation.
“Certainly, the risks, the suffering, any economic damages, all of those things were considered in this case,” she said. “The $5 million, once the City pays in its retention to $2 million, any amount after that is really left to the discretion of the insurance company.”
Council Member Bryan Frye said he remained silent on the matter to let the cases go through the system, but he then offered his condolences to the family.
“It’s been horrible for this community, tragic for the Finch family without a doubt,” he said. “This should have never happened, and my sympathy goes to the family.”
But he also said law enforcement was put in a horrible situation the night of the shooting.
“Never should have been present, never should have had to deal with it,” Frye said. “But this community has dealt with this for way too long. Certainly, the settlement will never bring back Andrew, and it will never heal the family entirely. I only hope that it then can give some measure to the children and the family some kind of relief.”
He said he is not happy with the legal fees the family had to pay and that not enough money is going to the family, but that it is time for the community to move forward.
The mayor thanked Johnson for working on the settlement.
“My understanding is that it went beyond regular business hours and stayed at the table to ensure that we were, as a city, were able to get a resolution to the legal aspects of this situation that was as humane and as fair as possible,” Whipple said.
“It took a whole lot of effort and trying to highlight that this was a tragedy that should have never happened, and we needed to do something,” Johnson said.
Whipple also spoke to the family.
“We know that there is nothing that we can do to bring a loved one back from a situation such as this, but we do hope this brings closure, and we do hope this helps the family move forward and that, again, we can do what’s right for the children of this family,” he said.
Blubaugh was the only council member who voted against the settlement.
Why did it take this long to reach this point? Mayor Whipple said Wichita needed a council that wanted to bring closure to the case in a responsible matter.
“Knowing that you know we are able to do our part to do right by the children, I think in this situation is all we can hope for,” said Whipple.
“It took a whole lot of effort and trying to highlight that this was a tragedy that should have never happened, and we needed to do something,” said Johnson.
The swatting incident that started it
The hoax, or swatting call, started after some online gamers played Call of Duty: WWII. Shane Gaskill of Wichita said he got into an argument with online gamer Casey Viner of Ohio over a $1.50 bet.
During the argument, Gaskill gave Viner an old street address. Viner then contacted Tyler Barris of Los Angeles and recruited him to place a hoax call to Wichita police about a shooting and kidnapping at the address.
Finch and his family lived at Gaskill’s old address. When police showed up, Finch answered the door and tried to convince officers that there must have been a misunderstanding. The encounter ended with the officer shooting and killing Finch.
Barriss is serving 20 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to 51 counts in April 2019. Viner was sentenced to 15 months in September 2019 after pleading guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Shane Gaskill was sentenced in September 2022 to 18 months in prison after pleading guilty to wire fraud,
In the five years since his death, the Kansas Legislature passed the Andrew Finch anti-swatting bill, the people responsible for the hoax have been sentenced, and the WPD promoted the officer who shot Finch.
Where is Rapp now?
Earlier, it was mentioned how an action was filed on behalf of Finch’s children and the estate in November 2019, and the court found Rapp had immunity and dismissed the case in March 2022.
As a result, Rapp is still employed by WPD. Rapp was later promoted to detective.
Community activists have long called for him to be fired. KSN questioned both Whipple and Johnson about if he should stay employed.
“As an elected official, I refrain from giving opinions when it comes to matters of personnel that fall under our chief and fall under our city manager. I wouldn’t feel comfortable answering a question like that,” Whipple said.
“Because of Council Policy No. 39, I can’t really speak to that. We try not to have undue influence on the hiring or firing of employees,” Johnson said.
This announcement also comes days after Jensen Hughes released an independent analysis of WPD, recommending many cultural changes for the department
“There is no artificial timeline when it comes to this case. I think that there is a bit of coincidence with that, but as we look forward to creating the best community center, police department in the entirety of the midwest, timing does matter,” Whipple said.
Stroth hopes Finch’s death pressures WPD and other law enforcement agencies to make sure their officers are properly trained.
“The civil case is over. The family is going to move forward, and hopefully, it is a teachable moment for the City of Wichita and leadership to make sure that this doesn’t happen to any other family,” Stroth said.