La Crosse County “swatting” incident could fall on taxpayers, investigators search for suspect behind prank

La Crosse Sheriff investigates false "weapons and crimes" call forcing multiple agencies to respond to property near Melrose-Mindoro High School
Swatting Folo

Melrose, Wis. (WKBT) – La Crosse law enforcement launched an investigation into a call that forced several emergency crews to respond to a home near Melrose-Mindoro High School Sunday night. A calm final February night turned into chaos for La Crosse County emergency responders.

La Crosse County Sheriff Dispatch received a call about a potentially dangerous situation close to Melrose Mindoro High School. Several La Crosse County Sheriff’s deputies, Gundersen Air, Town of Farmington Fire and First Responders, Tri-State Ambulance, and State Patrol arrived at the property. Investigators revealed the truth behind the call.

“They provided law enforcement with details involving weapons and crimes that did not occur,” Sgt. Joe Kernin said Sunday night, from the La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office.

Deputies determined it was an incident called swatting, where a person calls in false information. Swatting is a prank call made to authorities with the purpose of luring them to a location. This prank is popular among the video gaming community.

“The La Crosse County Sheriff’s Office received false information,” Kernin said.

La Crosse Sheriff’s Captain John Siegel said this prank lost popularity in recent years, but it happens from time to time.

“The idea was to get back at that person,” Siegel said.

Situations like this are difficult to investigate according to Siegel.

“In situations like this where you can spoof phone numbers, bounce numbers around it makes it difficult,” Siegel said.

La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke told News 8 Now people who call in false information can face a consequence as high as 15 years in prison depending on the severity of the crime. The calls require action no matter the circumstance.

“We have to treat it like a real call,” Siegel said.

False alarms like this carry a price tag. Not to mention the work emergency crews set aside to prioritize this incident.

“The overall cost of something like this is pretty significant,” Siegel said. “We’ve got a couple of investigators here that have been working on this since they came in this morning.”

The prank’s expense may fall on La Crosse County residents unless investigators find the person responsible.

“It’s coming out of our budgets and ultimately the taxpayers, the county, the municipalities, whoever was involved,” Siegel said.

Siegel said information is fragile in situations like this. Sometimes key evidence only lasts a few days and they are up against the clock to find what they need to make an arrest.