Marin Co. artist target of swat attack after posting Trump-related illustration
MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (KTVU) - A Marin County man who was the target of a swat attack believes his profession had something to do with it.
On the afternoon of Saturday, Jan. 13, someone reported a suspected shooting, triggering a police response, but the call turned out to be a hoax.
"We weren't even here and we didn't even see the huge spectacle," said Brian Stauffer, of Pacheco Valley, a woodsy enclave in southern Novato.
Stauffer is an illustrator, creating art that accompanies articles in national magazines and newspapers.
He suspects a political drawing he did motivated someone to make the false report, potentially putting his family and neighborhood in jeopardy.
"Police asked me if I heard gunshots, and I said no," said neighbor Bridie Dillon, "and they said we have to go to the backyard."
Dillon showed KTVU where officers climbed the hill behind her home so they could see into the Stauffer's property.
"The were up there on the steps, and they had their guns aimed at that house," said Dillon. A caller, who sounded young on the phone, fabricated an elaborate ruse.
"He said his parents had been arguing, and the father had taken the mother out to the backyard," recounted Stauffer, "and he said he heard a gunshot and then the father came back without the mother, and a gun was missing from the cabinet."
Novato responders had their doubts from the start, since the phone number the call came in on was out-of-state, and not associated with the area or the Stauffers.
"Our dispatchers and officers kind of caught on that it was fake to start out with," said Detective Sgt. Trevor Hall of Novato Police.
Still, the department had to take the call seriously, and follow protocol for a potential active shooter situation.
It is believed to be the first instance of swatting in Marin County, but swatting is a national phenomenon.
Filing a false emergency to get a swat response can bring deadly results.
In December, in Wichita,Kansas, a 28 year old man was shot and killed by police who rushed to his home, duped into believing there was a hostage situation.
The Stauffers, with their two teenager sons and their dog, had left the house a half hour before the call to go on a hike.
"They weren't home at the time but we were able to get hold of them by cell phone, and they rushed home and we were able to make contact with them, and insured that it was basically a fake call," said Sgt. Hall.
Stauffer notes, he approached the police cautiously.
"Even as we drove up, I made sure my hands were on the wheel, and as we got out of the car, they still had their hands on their weapons, so I raised my hands like, hey we're home." The entire experience was unnerving.
"Even though it was the police, we felt the whole thing was a huge violation," he noted.
And Stauffer believes it's no coincidence the hoax happened just two hours after he posted a Trump-related illustration on Facebook.
The image depicts a man's hand holding the Statue of Liberty torch, but with snakes instead of flames, curling out of it.
The art accompanied a New York Times op-ed piece about President Trump's inconsistencies on immigration issues.
"On my Facebook page, it said I lived in San Rafael, because we used to live there," Stauffer noted.
The swatting call did come in to San Rafael Police first, and was re-routed to Novato P.D.
Stauffer feels strongly about the social issues he illustrates, but is disheartened that someone would react in such an extreme way.
Whether the caller meant harm, or simply to harass, he can't be sure.
"I think people are so disconnected they forget that their actions have real effects on real people," said Stauffer, "but I'm thrilled that we weren't here, and thrilled with how police handled the situation."