New Mexico swatter caused major police response in May 2018

A Roswell, New Mexico man has been sentenced to 27 months in prison for bomb threats made to Georgetown Elementary School and the Georgetown Walmart.

The "swatting" incidents occurred on May 9, 2018. Swatting refers to making false emergency calls in order to elicit a police response (e.g., a SWAT team) and to harass another individual.

Around 1:45 p.m., 29-year-old Stephen S. Landes called the Walmart in Georgetown asked to speak with a manager, impersonating a Georgetown man. He said he had a bomb and a child held hostage in the bathroom, demanded $20,000 and threatened to blow-up the Walmart if he did not receive the money.

Law enforcement, including the Georgetown Police Department, Delaware State Police and Delaware Natural Resources Police responded and evacuated the store. K9 units searched the Walmart but did not find any bomb.

A few minutes later,just before 2 p.m., Landes called Georgetown Elementary School. Landes, again claiming to be a Georgetown man, told the person who answered the phone that he had two children buried in his basement and that there was a bomb in the school. School administrators locked down the school and called 911.

Law enforcement again responded, and K9 units again found no bombs.

According to The News Journal, the man Landes impersonated was Rodney Alan Phipps, of Georgetown. The two began feuding after speaking on a phone party line. Phipps is also facing swatting allegations, for separate incidences. He was indicted in June 2019 for false reports in five states that included murder, shootings, arson and a hostage situation.

“Stephen Landes’ actions exposed our children and community to fear and a real potential for injury. I am proud of the professional response of our police officers and the exceptional investigation and prosecution by our state and federal partners,” said Georgetown Police Chief R.L. Hughes.

Landes pleaded guilty to one count of interstate threats concerning the use of an explosive in August. He faced a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment but was sentenced to 27 months by the Honorable Richard G. Andrews, United States District Judge for the District of Delaware.  

"Stephen Landes orchestrated an extensive, multi-faceted swatting campaign that caused a significant amount of angst, alarm, and unnecessary expenditure of limited law enforcement resources," said Special Agent in Charge Jennifer C. Boone, FBI Baltimore Field Office. "FBI Baltimore, working jointly with the Delaware State Police, the Georgetown Police Department and the Delaware United States Attorney's Office, hopes this sentence will deter others from engaging in similar criminal conduct."

This case was investigated by the FBI-Baltimore Division’s Wilmington Resident Office with assistance from the Delaware State Police and was prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Adrienne Dedjinou.