A 18-year-old Tennessee man who helped set in motion a fraudulent distress call to police that led to the death of a 60-year-old grandfather in 2020 was sentenced to 60 months in prison today.
Shane Sonderman, of Lauderdale County, Tenn. admitted to conspiring with a group of criminals that’s been “swatting” and harassing people for months in a bid to coerce targets into giving up their valuable Twitter and Instagram usernames.
At Sonderman’s sentencing hearing today, prosecutors told the court the defendant and his co-conspirators would text and call targets and their families, posting their personal information online and sending them pizzas and other deliveries of food as a harassment technique.
Other victims of the group told prosecutors their tormentors further harassed them by making false reports of child abuse to social services local to the target’s area, and false reports in the target’s name to local suicide prevention hotlines.
Eventually, when subjects of their harassment refused to sell or give up their Twitter and Instagram usernames, Sonderman and others would swat their targets — or make a false report to authorities in the target’s name with the intention of sending a heavily armed police response to that person’s address.
For weeks throughout March and April 2020, 60-year-old Mark Herring of Bethpage, Tenn. was inundated with text messages asking him to give up his @Tennessee Twitter handle. When he ignored the requests, Sonderman and his buddies began having food delivered to Herring’s home via cash on delivery.
At one point, Sonderman posted Herring’s home address in a Discord chat room used by the group, and a minor in the United Kingdom quickly followed up by directing a swatting attack on Herring’s home.
Ann Billings was dating Mr. Herring and was present when the police surrounded his home. She recalled for the Tennessee court today how her friend died shortly thereafter of a heart attack.
Billings said she first learned of the swatting when a neighbor called and asked why the street was lined with police cars. When Mr. Herring stepped out on the back porch to investigate, police told him to put his hands up and to come to the street.
Unable to disengage a lock on his back fence, Herring was instructed to somehow climb over the fence with his hands up.
“He was starting to get more upset,” Billings recalled. “He said, ‘I’m a 60-year-old fat man and I can’t do that.'”
Billings said Mr. Herring then offered to crawl under a gap in the fence, but when he did so and stood up, he collapsed of a heart attack. Herring died at a nearby hospital soon after.
Mary Frances Herring, who was married to Mr. Herring for 28 years, said her late husband was something of a computer whiz in his early years who secured the @Tennessee Twitter handle shortly after Twitter came online. Internet archivist Jason Scott says Herring was the creator of the successful software products Sparkware and QWIKMail; Scott has 2 hours worth of interviews with Herring from 20 years ago here.
Perhaps the most poignant testimony today came when Ms. Herring said her husband — who was killed by people who wanted to steal his account — had a habit of registering new Instagram usernames as presents for friends and family members who’d just had children.
“If someone was having a baby, he would ask them, ‘What are your naming the baby?’,” Ms. Herring said. “And he would get them that Instagram name and give it to them as a gift.”
Valerie Dozono also was an early adopter of Instagram, securing the two-letter username “VD” for her initials. When Dozono ignored multiple unsolicited offers to buy the account, she and many family and friends started getting unrequested pizza deliveries at all hours.
When Dozono continued to ignore her tormentors, Sonderman and others targeted her with a “SIM-swapping attack,” a scheme in which fraudsters trick or bribe employees at wireless phone companies into redirecting the target’s text messages and phone calls to a device they control. From there, the attackers can reset the password for any online account that allows password resets via SMS.
But it wasn’t the subsequent bomb threat that Sonderman and friends called in to her home that bothered Dozono most. It was the home invasion that was ordered at her address using strangers on social media.
Dozono said Sonderman created an account on Grindr — the location-based social networking and dating app for gay, bi, trans and queer people — and set up a rendezvous at her address with an unsuspecting Grindr user who was instructed to waltz into her home as if he was invited.
“This gentleman was sent to my home thinking someone was there, and he was given instructions to walk into my home,” Dozono said.
The court heard from multiple other victims targeted by Sonderman and friends over a two-year period. Including Shane Glass, who started getting harassed in 2019 over his @Shane Instagram handle. Glass told the court that endless pizza deliveries, as well as SIM swapping and swatting attacks left him paranoid for months that his assailant could be someone stalking him nearby.
Judge Mark Norris said Sonderman’s agreement to plead to one count of extortion by threat of serious injury or damage carries with it a recommended sentence of 27 to 33 months in prison. However, the judge said other actions by the defendant warranted up to 60 months (5 years) in prison.
Sonderman might have been eligible to knock a few months off his sentence had he cooperated with investigators and refrained from committing further crimes while out on bond.
But prosecutors said that shortly after his release, Sonderman went right back to doing what he was doing when he got caught. Investigators who subpoenaed his online communications found he’d logged into the Instagram account “FreeTheSoldiers,” which was known to have been used by the group to harass people for their social media handles.
Sonderman was promptly re-arrested for violating the terms of his release, and prosecutors played for the court today a recording of a phone call Sonderman made from jail in which he brags to a female acquaintance that he wiped his mobile phone two days before investigators served another search warrant on his home.
Sonderman himself read a lengthy statement in which he apologized for his actions, blaming his “addiction” on several psychiatric conditions — including bipolar disorder. While his recitation was initially monotone and practically devoid of emotion, Sonderman eventually broke down in tears that made the rest of his statement difficult to hear over the phone-based conference system the court made available to reporters.
The bipolar diagnoses was confirmed by his mother, who sobbed as she simultaneously begged the court for mercy while saying her son didn’t deserve any.
Judge Norris said he was giving Sonderman the maximum sentenced allowed by law under the statute — 60 months in prison followed by three years of supervised release, but implied that his sentence would be far harsher if the law permitted.
“Although it may seem inadequate, the law is the law,” Norris said. “The harm it caused, the death and destruction….it’s almost unspeakable. This is not like cases we frequently have that involve guns and carjacking and drugs. This is a whole different level of insidious criminal behavior here.”
Sonderman’s sentence pales in comparison to the 20-year prison time handed down in 2019 to serial swatter Tyler Barriss, a California man who admitted making a phony emergency call to police in late 2017 that led to the shooting death of an innocent Kansas resident.
This begs the question, is there a “best” response if a person becomes a target of such a group? I am not including “give in” as a desired response (though please give this if it is your conclusion). I was “fishing” for options to diffuse the impacts of such attacks.
Have 2 cell phone numbers. Use one for SMS messages, and the other is dedicated to 2FA.
Have 2 cell numbers, one for SMS and one for 2FA. Don’t mix them.
And tell the police and every restaurant you want to be in good terms with that they should call you back before believing the guy on the phone. Police night still come to verify if the call was real, but be more relaxed knowing that this is likely to be a false alarm.
Hey, that’s a really great idea! Just alert the groups being used against you. It seems obvious, but I didn’t think of it..
I wonder how well it works in real life.
You can tell your local PD that you are targeted for swatting. But it really depends on their emergency dispatch process. Do they really have a list of addresses that they check when getting 911 calls? Does the system incorporate such a list? Or is it just an informal courtesy check that a friendly dispatch manager may do, if they are on duty.
Brian, I know you have such relationships with your local PD. How often do you check to make sure they are still checking emergency calls against your address?
Better to have two different levels of cops.
Cops without firearms are first responders and assist without force. Only they can call the 2nd level who may use firearms.
Just hope you aren’t being robbed at gunpoint. Obviously you have never been robbed at gunpoint. Ya’ll put too much on the Cops.
The UK seems to do alright. Actually significantly better.
Realistically speaking, there is no effective defense against these targeted harassment groups. You have to lay low and hope they get bored.
An effective defense is to avoid social media like the plague that it is.
The best defense is proactive anonymity. They enjoy relative anonymity when they harass. But would-be victims must also be hyper-vigilant about personal information online.
Can someone get the FBI involved the Shelbyville police department Shelbyville tn are involved in John Allen boness’s take over as the district attorney of Bedford county TN. As well I can’t even get them to file A report, any device I come into contact with is setup to deny access to the internet. Someone scammed me out of my lottery ticket in 2019, that worked in the police department, and there’s tons of other things I’m tied into that I don’t have anything to do woth. As well I’m not allowed to use the phone until A bet has been placed and I get verbally assualted for something I didn’t do.
Realistically you are going to have to get through the first visit by the police and have a long convo with them when you are asked to.
You might not know why you are being targeted, but you do know that you are. That won’t make sense to a lot of low effort and inexperienced police, but will be on the record for those tasked with reviewing how they have handled your case.
These actions are small compared to what nation backed groups are capable of. They can manufacture entire videos with you speaking from ID photos and phone convo audio. That means they can effectively put you into any situation they want and make it nearly impossible for you to counter their narrative.
It doesn’t “beg the question” – it “raises the question”. These have almost opposite meanings. If “begs” is misused enough, its unique meaning will be lost and the language will be the poorer for that.
The article doesn’t “beg the question”; it “raises the question”. These have almost opposite meanings. If “begs” is misused long enough it will lose its unique meaning, and our language will be the poorer for it.
They should give these pricks the DEATH PENTALTY. May God judge these Satanist righteously.
Could not agree more. 5 years! Are you kidding?
Woah woah woah. Satanists are good people don’t lump these people into there.
Well if you consider that Satan is a ficticious character, like Slenderman or Jack in the Beanstick, then there is no such ylthing as Satanists.
hope this poor scumbag stays poor rots in prison. absolute edater with 0 iq #holdL
hope this poor scumbag rots in prison and stays poor for the rest of his life. literal edater his whole time in comm and never once had any intelligence. turned from a minecraft hcf player into a prisoner #deserved
A person dies as a direct result of his commission of numerous felonies and he only get 5 years? This wasn’t an impulse or spur of the moment crime, this was a continuous and sustained campaign of terror cynically designed to extort something of value.
As reprehensible as the young boy racer in Florida who recently moved down a mother and her baby indeed was, that young man never intended to hurt anyone or cause anyone distress. He got a life changing 24 years. He definitely needed to serve some prison time but I’d aver that it would have been far more just if their sentences had been swapped.
Did this Shane Sonderman guy have autism ?
His parents are cousins.
Was this case tried in state or federal court? If the latter, I’m gonna write my representatives to encourage them to up the maximum penalty for this reprehensible crime.
that was the maximum penalty since he was 17 when it happened iirc and ig the circumstances of what happened idk
New laws targeting cyber crimes need to be created. Trying to fit a cyber crime and its associated non cyber attacks and harassments into current laws is not sufficient. All of this over a stupid username or handle?
its like me grabbing the last bag of Doritos at the store and getting shot for it.
I’m guessing if he is watched carefully, he will do something else while in prison. Then, give him more time. Eventually, he will run out of time. Or, he’ll decide he can find a way to secretly attack on of his fellow prisoners… That would only work once, if caught.
I’d suggest that anyone that can, watch everything this guy does, or he will cause more havoc, even from prison.
Does anyone have his prison address? I’d like to send him a gallon jug of KY Jelly.
Laced with pure capsaicin.
keep the jelly. don’t do him any favors.
We can only hope this loser* meets a Grindr aficionado in the lock up – a large, muscled, heavily tattooed kinda guy – and he is introduced to a new type of swatting.
*Bipolar disorder, even if accurate, does not excuse this conduct. He actually diminishes the seriousness of mental illness and those who suffer with it.
As to the limitation on the sentence, ask yourself this: Fact – the judge is limited by the plea. Where was the prosecutor? Afraid to try this guy on what seems like a powerful case on other crimes with greater penalty potential. The criminal justice system is a joke.
These folks endangered and tormented a lot of people. It was no accident that someone died. If it wasn’t Herring it was going to be someone else.
5 years is 50 years too short.
If someone dies while you are committing a crime, I think that’s Murder-3. If you committed a crime knowing that someone could be put in danger by your actions, I think that’s Murder-2. This guy got off way too easy IMO.
This rule exists, it’s called the “felony murder rule” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Felony_murder_rule#United_States). Sonderman was convicted in federal court, however, and the relevant federal law lists only certain crimes that can trigger the felony murder rule. Extortion and harassment aren’t on that list, but it would be possible to broaden the list to include the type of extortion/harassment that leads to things like swatting.
Felony murder is, though, a controversial concept because it can impose murder liability on people who have no intent (typically, if you do something negligent or reckless that results in another person’s death, you end up with a voluntary/involuntary manslaughter charge) and if convicted a person is subject to the same penalties, including life imprisonment or death, as someone convicted of premeditated murder.
It is unfortunate the judge was limited to such a short sentence. This guy deserves a lot more.
The prosecutor didn’t try for manslaughter.
The types of crimes committed mostly by the middle class and up (such as tech crimes) are just not viewed as “violent” – even if deaths result. To me, five years is insulting!
Left unaddressed in the article and comments are the law enforcement policies that enable this sort of abuse. Why are LE agencies so vulnerable to letting their SWAT teams be abused this way? What sort of vetting process is in place for those calling in and the prospective targets? Whatever it is, it’s apparently not good enough in some jurisdictions.
THIS is the root cause of the problem.
The police will usually just take the word of whomever calls them first. This has been abused in many disputes between people.
How is this not the first question on anyone’s mind lmao
Absolutely horrible someone innocent and kind had to die due to these morons. The internet is such a great technological advancement but I feel it’s advancing and spiraling out of control far faster than security and cannot be policed or contained. I think a lot more education needs to be done on awareness to younger generations and children thstbthese are not victimless crimes or even the dire consequences and remorse they can bring.
He’ll be out in 3 with good behavior. Revolting.
There will come a day, again, when sick juvenile bastards like this are put in mental institutions for 10+ years like they used to be. But, oh, no, we had to start “mainstreaming” them and close the mental institutions under Reagan, putting the problems of housing and treating the criminally insane (juvenile or not) back into the community and dealing with them back onto the back of the cops, who aren’t trained to handle these people.
O Tempora! O Mores!
Barbaric. The sentence and the act. It’s enough to make a man forswear his DNA and declare himself a Gorilla.
maybe the real problem is that the US police is too afraid to get shot in any incident. as a result, their guns have safety-off and pointed to any potential threat.
if you send welfare workers instead, innocent people do not get shot, people are not affraid, people do not get heart attacks or get shot while innocent.
If you have any doubt, consider why SWATTING isn’t an issue in europe.
You have a point, but the swat call will also include claims that they have a house full of guns and possibly other weapons – it would not be appropriate to send welfare workers in case the claim is real. Better to vet the call using other methods.
It’s a really nuanced situation this time. It’s not like the guy hired a hit man (like Joe Exotic), not like the SWAT team were trigger happy and excessive (like the 2017 Wichita swatting).
In this case, the victim was not healthy enough to comply with even a non-violent arrest.
He did explain he could not climb OVER the fence, and apparently the police did not force him.
He then “offered” to climb under the fence, or through a narrow gap. The victim I guess thought he was physically capable of at least that. But sadly, he was not.
It’s really hard because it’s not a straight forward blame, as much as we all would like it to be.
We could blame the only perpetrator of a crime in this scenario. And that would be correct.
But connecting the death to the crime is several degrees of separation here.
With risk of victim blaming… I should still point out the negligence of the victim. In the event of a fire, the occupants should always have a way out. If you lock your doors or gates from the outside or otherwise make it impossible to egress, then that’s a safety hazard.
I don’t know the conversation between the police and the victim, but did he try to go back inside so he could go through the front door? Why was climbing over or under a fence the only options?
With a broken lock, and a physical incapability to climb… did anyone consider stepping back and letting police break the fence to come inside the yard, while the victim/suspect sits down with hands up?
It’s tragic. But really, a medical condition was the cause of death here. Not cops and not the criminal harasser…. although the cops need to reform to prevent swatting, and the criminal deserves harsh sentencing for his role in causing the situation.
With risk of appearing to victim blame (and I don’t blame the victim)… I should still point out the negligence of the victim. In the event of a fire, the occupants should always have a way out. If you lock your doors or gates from the outside or otherwise make it impossible to egress, then that’s a safety hazard.
I don’t know the conversation between the police and the victim, but did he try to go back inside so he could go through the front door?
Why was climbing over or under a fence the only options?
With a broken lock, and a physical incapability to climb, did anyone consider stepping back and letting police break the fence to come inside the yard, while the victim/suspect sits down with hands up?
It’s tragic. But really, a medical condition was the cause of death here. Not cops and not the criminal harasser, although the cops need to reform to prevent swatting, and the criminal deserves harsh sentencing for his role in causing the situation.
But really, a medical condition was the cause here. Not police and not the criminal swatter, although the cops need to reform to prevent swatting, and the criminal does deserve harsh sentencing for his role in causing the situation.
Well, Heck, Y’all, you wouldn’t wanna infringe on their God-given right to own a grenade launcher, would ya?
Send BOTH in!
Well, you wouldn’t wanna infringe against someone’s God-Given right to own a private armory, wouldja?
Send in BOTH, when appropriate. And not “welfare workers”, which really don’t exist any more; if the person’s insane, you need a trained negotiator. If thye person is mentally unbalanced, you send in cops AND mental health workers.
Invariably, the scene Commander calls those decisions.
…and fright alone CAN be used to kill _anyone with a severe heart condition_. Many murders have been done in this way.
I completely agree with that. Send in both. Assess the situation upon arrival, to see which is needed first.
Plus, we also need checks and security so that it’s more difficult to call in a SWAT team anonymously from out of state.
Although there have been deaths by frightening, they usually fall into the manslaughter/accidental category. Unless there was prior knowledge of heart condition and intention to trigger it.
I’d really hate to see grandkids being considered murderers just because they jumped out and scared their elderly grandparents.
Nice to hear about justice in the world.
For more on the subject listen to https://darknetdiaries.com/episode/97/
That case didn’t end as well.
Anonymity on the Internet is shelter for criminals.
It’s also a shelter for people who aren’t criminals.
Since there was death, I would have hoped for a murder charge of some type and being tried as an adult. The sentence would be much stiffer.
Looks like manslaughter would be the highest charge. And the prosecution didn’t bother to even charge that much. Probably because it was too much of a stretch to connect those dots for the jury.
FIle a police report on each incident including the name of any party also victimized (eg restaurant delivery person) to build a record
So what about the trigger happy cops that kill these innocent people? They just get a pass?
That would be another story. Literally, this story doesn’t have a trigger happy cop at all. Rather, a guy with a serious medical condition who tragically died without being touched by a cop.
Did you even read the story?
The cops are clearly as guilty as Sonderman – you get a prank phone call and send in a swat team and the poor guy dies
At least a Republican judge took the case. If we’re a Democrat, this guy would be released.
We used to swat one another in the early 2000’s. We were a majority of young dumb teens and abusing carded conference call chats, or free relay chats. I remember this guy swatting his own hacker “friend” while on a conference call and supposedly the guy and his mom went to jail that night. Cops found a stolen shotgun and the mom had a crack/meth pipe or something. Wild times being a teenage hacker with other immature hackers.
Only 5 years for such sociopathy? How about 50?
What kind of perverted society turns someone like this loose at 23?
I only wish for a “Charles Bronson” death-wish guy waiting to greet this perp on his release from prison and ridding our world of this scumbag.
Perhaps I missed it, what about his friends who allegedly also participated in the swatting?
I need to know why this guy’s identity is being concealed. Why isn’t his picture slapped all over the news? The public has a right to see what this troll looks like.
Instead of focusing on the deterrence of long prison sentences (which criminals don’t care about when they think there’s no chance of getting caught).
The root cause must be addressed. Police departments must be accountable for any and all damages that result in a SWAT raid.
From even the most minor of damages to a door, to mental anguish for innocent swatting victims, to pain and suffering, to injury and death expenses.
When police departments can get sued for negligence… they will pay more attention to their emergency response process to ensure they validate anonymous tips BEFORE sending in the SWAT team.
But as it stands today, “qualified immunity” laws and other roadblocks prevent the kind of accountability that would truly prevent these tragedies.