11 Investigates Exclusive: Police surround home, handcuff homeowner at gunpoint after prank call

PENN HILLS, Pa. — Police cars blocked Hallmark Drive in Penn Hills Friday after officers with long guns surrounded a home in the neighborhood and evacuated other homes. Officers used a PA system to try to coax a man out of the home. When he walked out the home, unaware of what was happening outside, he was detained at gunpoint while police searched his home.

Minutes later they realized the emergency call that sent them to the home was fabricated.

“It seemed like I was a fugitive, I’d been on the run for 20 years,” Vincent Cunningham said. “I’m still shocked. I got a lot of anxiety over the situation… I kind of feared for my life, and I just didn’t know what to expect.

Cunningham has lived in his home for almost 30 years. He said he has no criminal history.

Friday evening around 5 p.m., Cunningham was on the phone with what he thought was Apple support. His phone hadn’t been working properly, and he had spent much of the day trying to get the issue resolved. Something was different about this call though. He said the person on the other line said there were signs of fraud and he needed to transfer him to an FTC agent. Once the call was transferred, Cunningham said the man on the other line made a series of bizarre claims, requested personal information from him and when Cunningham didn’t provide it, the man threatened to send the police to his house.

Minutes after hanging up, Cunningham walked outside to go to his car and he was stunned by what he heard and saw.

“I got right here. I heard somebody say, ‘Put your hands up,’” Cunningham said.

Doorbell camera footage and cell phone videos captured the tense interaction. Cunningham was instructed to keep his hands up, walk toward police and lay face down in a driveway. He was then patted down and handcuffed.

“I was scared to death ‘cause I didn’t know who they were. Nobody identified themselves as police officers. They just told me to lay my head down and turn my head away,” Cunningham said.

Video of the incident shows some officers were in uniform and others were in plain clothes with vests.

As Cunningham lay on the ground, officers with long guns rushed into his home to search it. They quickly realized the reported shooting that sent them to the home did not happen.

“The call came out that a person, a male, had shot his girlfriend and killed her and there was possibly a child involved,” said Penn Hills Police Chief Ronald Como.

He said Allegheny County SWAT had been called to respond, but police resolved the situation before it turned into a full-blown standoff. He said officers evacuated homes on the street to protect neighbors in case the situation escalated.

“Even if we have an idea it’s a spoof, until we prove it we have to respond that way,” Como said. “What if your loved one was in an incident like this and it was true? Would you want the police not to be there?”

Como said swatting calls like this one, at least the second one his department has dealt with, is not only a waste of resources. They unnecessarily put people in harm’s way.

The chief said the call came in through 988, the suicide prevention lifeline. Investigators also learned the phone number used was tied to at least one other prior swatting call.

He said he is relieved no one was hurt but feels for the homeowner.

“One person said they’re sorry, the female cop. One,” Cunningham said, admitting he was upset by that. “I was embarrassed. I was shocked. I was scared… I felt like America’s most wanted.”

Cunningham said he has no criminal history. He is only months away from retirement. He said the encounter with the police left him traumatized, and he is seeing his doctor for help overcoming the anxiety he is suffering.

The FBI is now investigating the swatting incident.

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