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Author Patrick Tomlinson and his wife, business owner Niki Robinson, were “beaten” more than 40 times in their Milwaukee home, often resulting in police officers holding guns to their heads. Their tormentors also made false bomb threats against venues in three states that bear their names. Law enforcement, however, failed to stop the calls.

The couple’s horror comes at a time when such incidents appear to be on the rise in the United States, at least on college campuses. In less than a week in April, including Clemson University, University of Florida, Boston University, Harvard University, Cornell University, University of Pittsburgh, Rutgers University and University of Oklahoma and Middlebury College Universities, including China, have become targets of fly swatters.

To address the growing problem, the FBI has begun formal steps to gain a complete picture of the problem across the country.

Scott Schubert, chief of the bureau’s Criminal Justice Information Service, based in Clarksburg, West Virginia, told NBC News that the agency created a national online database in May to facilitate access to hundreds of police officers across the country. Information about assaults is shared between departments and law enforcement agencies.

Schubert said the work will give the bureau a “common operating picture of what’s going on across the country.” “We are doing everything we can to monitor this national issue and do everything we can to help,” he added.

What is Paida?

“Swatting is when people make fraudulent 911 calls to report a serious threat of crime or violence, such as a bomb threat,” said Lauren R. Shapiro, a security expert and associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. , hostages, killings, etc. to trick the police into raiding the homes or businesses of people who actually did not commit crimes.”

Beatings can have fatal consequences. 2021, Mark Herring died of heart disease During the police response to his Tennessee home, he received a fraudulent report of a shooting.

Patrick Tomlinson and his wife Nicky Robinson. NBC News

In 2017, a Wichita police officer – who didn’t realize the caller had falsely reported a homicide and hostage incident Andrew Finch’s former home —killed 28-year-old Finch.

Shapiro noted that such deaths are extremely rare, thanks to the highly trained SWAT team responding to bogus calls.

The United States does not have any central agency to track beatings or suspects, so official statistics are not available. According to a report by the Anti-Defamation League, by 2019, there were an estimated 1,000 assaults in the country each year, each estimated to cost affected communities at least $10,000, even before including expenditures for follow-up such as investigations, property repairs and consulting.

The crackdown is increasingly being delivered through technology that can be used to mask a caller’s real voice, phone number or IP address (also known as “spoofing”) or make their false reports sound more believable.

Schubert told NBC News that the FBI’s new centralized database should help the agency “understand what’s going on across the country so we can learn from it.”

tomlinson horror

Tomlinson’s troubles began in 2018 with a casual Twitter comment that he personally never found comedian Norm MacDonald funny.as the daily beast The tweet reportedly caught the attention of trolls who soon began harassing, stalking, impersonating and defaming Tomlinson and his wife, using their own website and social media accounts on Reddit, Twitter and YouTube Come target this couple and invite others to pile on.

Most of their harassers are concentrated on a site that is cloned elsewhere so that participants can migrate quickly if their forum is banned by their service provider.

Since The Daily Beast reported, incidents of harassment online and offline have escalated.

The couple were most recently beaten at their home on Tuesday, bringing the total number of beatings to 43. Tomlinson’s parents, both elderly, were also beaten this year at their home about a two-hour drive from Milwaukee.

“It takes away our sanctuary,” Tomlinson said of the ongoing harassment, adding: “We don’t feel safe in our own homes. We don’t know when the door is going to be kicked in.”

Tomlinson described one incident: “I went downstairs and there were six cops with pistols, shotguns, AR-15s, all pointing at my head, flashlights all pointing at my head. I was dragged Out of the house, then on my own front porch, I was immediately handcuffed.”

Police handcuff Patrick Tomlinson outside his Milwaukee home.Courtesy of Patrick Tomlinson

In addition to abusing emergency services, the impostor tricked the couple’s natural gas supplier, We Energies, into shutting off the heat on cold Wisconsin nights twice, most recently in March, according to records shared by the family.

“We woke up to the sound of breathing in the room,” Tomlinson said. “The temperature in our house was in the mid-50s.” That put the couple and their pets (two cats and a bearded dragon lizard) at risk among.

False threats using the couple’s names have also reached a popular local Irish pub twice this year, leading police to once bring bomb-sniffing dogs to the bar during a Marquette University game.

Swatters also alleges that a false bomb threat was received at American Family Field, the baseball stadium where the Milwaukee Brewers played, on the night Tomlinson publicly said they would be there. Dec. 10, 2022 False bomb threat mentioning Tomlinson causes thousands of fans to evacuate Patti Labelle Concert Riverside Theater in Milwaukee.

The couple said they have spent tens of thousands of dollars over the past five years to protect themselves. They said they purchased high-end home security systems, personal defense weapons and more, among other items.

Tomlinson and Robinson are suing the owners of an online forum that their stalkers have used to target them. But the courts never heard their case because they didn’t have the names of the website owners to sue. They issued a subpoena to Internet service provider Cloudflare for the names, but the subpoena was dropped. The couple said they were forced to withdraw their lawsuit and now say they owe their attackers more than $50,000 in legal fees, enough to bankrupt them.

Why no arrests?

John Jay’s Shapiro said that while the first recorded assault occurred in 2002, until now there were no specific laws criminalizing assault in the United States.

“Without regulations in place, there are no designated resources or training to investigate assaults,” she said. “911 dispatchers don’t have the resources and training needed to distinguish between actual emergencies and false reports.”

Legally, the False Information and Hoax Statute (also known as Section 1038) is most commonly used to prosecute assault. Other statutes sometimes apply — one pertaining to interstate threats involving explosives, and another pertaining to interstate communications involving extortion or threats to injure or kidnap someone.

“Often the perpetrators are trivialized compared to the consequences for the victims,” ​​Shapiro said.

As far as law enforcement goes, the Milwaukee Police Department is now familiar with the couple and their plight. In the latest beating, police arrived at their home and left a phone card, but did not wake the couple up, let alone hold them in the face with a gun as they have done in the past.

Robinson has advocated for training police officers in how to respond to beatings because of her experience.

She said she had to explain to officers what a beating was when they pointed a gun at her front door. “There’s no reason that any police department, any officer doesn’t know what assault is, and every department in this country should have policies, procedures, and training about it. It’s been around for over a decade. People have died from it. It’s insane .”

“The Milwaukee Police Department has a responsibility to respond to service calls to ensure no one is in danger and to take necessary precautions during these incidents,” the Milwaukee Police Department said in a statement.

At the federal level, Tomlinson filed a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center in November 2020. But he never saw a response, so in early May 2022, he went to the FBI’s Milwaukee bureau in person to file a new complaint.

An FBI agent was assigned to evaluate his case. He said the agency already had a file on Tomlinson because in April 2022, weeks before Tomlinson was scheduled to give a speech, tasers made a false bomb threat to a hotel outside Detroit. The presentation was part of PenguiCon and was titled “Elon Musk is full of S–“.

Since then, “communication from the FBI has been virtually zero,” Tomlinson said.

An agent has occasionally requested more evidence from the family via email. But the agency has yet to bring him or his wife for interviews or arrest anyone the couple believes was involved in the harassment and assault.

The FBI’s Schubert was unable to comment on their specific case, but generally advised, “If you receive threats of assault or information that someone is planning to engage in assault, contact local law enforcement immediately.”

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