Prank call cost Lee County taxpayers money, resources

SOUTH FORT MYERS, Fla. A 19-year-old video gamer was placed in handcuffs after a prank call led a SWAT team to a phony hostage situation.

Roly Cabrera and his family were questioned for five hours after a man called 911 at around 5:30 p.m. on Monday. The caller demanded cash and was threatening to hurt someone inside of Cabrera’s apartment near Daniel’s Parkway.

“I didn’t realize people would actually do that, that’s crazy,” Cabrera said. “I thought I was gonna go to jail.”

Lee County Sheriff’s Office deputies, SWAT team, investigators, K-9 unit, and hostage negotiators were dispatched to the apartment only to discover the call was a hoax.

The situation is often referred to as “swatting,” the action of making a prank call to emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address.

“To call out SWAT members that are at other locations, to get hostage negotiators out there, K9 units and detectives is a lot of resources when somebody else could have used those resources or another emergency could be going on,” Lee County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Anita Iriarte said.

The caller has not been identified, but he could face charges of threats, extortion and a misdemeanor for misusing 911.

These calls are happening all over the country and are dangerous to first responders and to the victims, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said. 

“Our job is to protect and serve and we can’t do that if we’re tending to another call that’s not even really happening,” Iriarte said.

The calls are also expensive when taking resources and overtime for each responding deputy into account, deputies said. It’s unclear how much money was spent on Monday’s call, but the sheriff’s office will continue to spend taxpayer money on the case until the caller is found.