The New York State Police are handling an investigation of the phone call to Sag Harbor Village Police early last Wednesday morning, November 28, that prompted a massive police response to 45 Main Street, the Bond No. 9 perfumery next to the American Hotel.
The caller said he had killed a woman and was in a second-floor room at that address with two children and an IED, an improvised explosive device. After the hotel manager, Julian Ramirez, was called in from Hampton Bays to help with a search that involved police with semi-automatic weapons and shields, the call was determined to have been unfounded.
Mr. Ramirez this week described the process as painstaking and initially frightening until after it became clear the apartment over 45 Main Street was empty and all the guests had been evacuated with their hands in the air from the four occupied rooms in the hotel.
Sag Harbor Village Police Chief Austin J. McGuire said this week that the call was made at about 1:45 a.m. to a Sag Harbor Village Police direct line, 725-0058, that automatically rolled over after one ring to East Hampton Village Police dispatch, which handles Sag Harbor calls after hours. The call was made via a voice-over-internet protocol network that obscured the identification of the caller, he said.
“I highly doubt it’s local,” commented Chief McGuire, who branded the call a case of “swatting,” in which a caller prompts a major police response as a prank or for malicious purposes. He said a state police computer crime lab in Albany was handling the case.
The state police’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation has asked anyone with information about the incident to call Troop L headquarters at (631) 756-3300.
A Google search of recent swatting episodes turns up news reports of a similar incident on the afternoon of November 5 in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where a caller told police he had shot his girlfriend and that he had hostages and had placed a bomb at an address on West Ferry Street, a main thoroughfare downtown. After a major police response, they determined the episode was “most likely a ‘swatting’ incident,” according to a tweet from the New Hope Borough Police.
East Hampton Village Police dispatchers, whom Chief McGuire praised for “doing a tremendous job speaking to someone who they thought was homicidal and suicidal,” notified the two Sag Harbor officers on duty, who requested the East Hampton Emergency Services Unit (ESU), a SWAT-type unit that incorporates trained personnel for the Sag Harbor, East Hampton town and village departments.
Also responding to the scene within minutes, according to Chief McGuire, who lives in Noyac and arrived to coordinate the response, were a communications van from East Hampton; state police, whom Chief McGuire said he had called in “to help contain the scene”; and state police hostage negotiators and personnel from that department’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI).
“As time was going on, the situation sounded like it was deteriorating rapidly,” Chief McGuire said, so Lt. John Claflin, who oversees the East Hampton ESU, called in the Southampton Town Police Department’s ESU. Two canine units were also called in, the chief said, one from the Suffolk County Sherriff’s Department and the other from the State Police. Hostage negotiators from the Suffolk Country Police Department also arrived. Two ambulance crews from the Sag Harbor Volunteer Ambulance were on standby.
The chief said the caller seemed able to see police activity on Main Street; it is now believed, he said, that the caller was watching the Hamptons.com live video feed available on line from a camera mounted on the American Hotel porch.
“As chaotic as this all sounds,” Chief McGuire said, “it actually went very smoothly. As I was telling the mayor, I have worked with these people for over 20 years. We work very well together. I let the ESU guys do what they’re good at. I let the BCI guys do what they’re good at. I let the dispatchers do what they’re good at … It was a very orderly event. We did have a post-event briefing, and everyone was satisfied.”
Landscaper Jeff Peters drives through the village every morning and said “it looked like a Hollywood movie set” when he went through last Wednesday at about 4:30 a.m., with Main Street and lower Division Street still blocked off. “Town was lit up. There were cars all over, state troopers and unmarked black police cars,” he said. “It was kind of scary. I thought it was a drill.”