Former Prom King Sentenced for Highlands Bomb Threat
Tyler Swope, the 20-year-old Highlands alum and former Prom King charged with terroristic threatening and false reporting in connection with a bomb threat called into Highlands High School last January was in court this week for sentencing after issuing an open plea to Campbell County Circuit Court.
After a sentencing hearing that began Monday afternoon and ended Wednesday morning, Swope was sentenced to six months in the Campbell County Detention Center, six years probation, and 500 hours of community service, 150 of which will be directed to speaking to high school students about his transgressions.
Swope's attorney, Phil Taliaferro, built the defense around Swope's past, positioning the defendant as a remorseful victim with a broken personal past, which includes a congenital physical disability that, although treated, would later keep him from high school athletics and pursuing a career in the military.
According to Taliaferro, there were "two Tylers," the one everyone had known growing up, and another, who struggled to deal with his disability.
"I've been remorseful been from day one," Swope addressed the court. "I've been taught to be honest, and from day one I've been honest," referring to his admission of guilt upon charges being issued against him last year.
Dr. Scott Bresler, Clinical Director of Forensic Psychology at the University of Cincinnati, testified that with proper supervision and treatment, Swope would not commit such a crime again, saying, "He made a mistake and one he'll pay for the rest of his life. He wanted to be a police officer, firefighter, or a position of trust. That will not happen for him now. You see young children play dress-up sometimes, putting firefighter uniforms on and they become someone stronger. A different person from their normal self. At 20 years old, Tyler was doing that."
Prior to last year's events, Swope served as a volunteer firefighter in Southgate.
Arguing prison time would only deter Swope's emotional or psychological recovery, Swope's attorneys Phil Taliaferro and Jack Porter requested a sentence of probation with restrictions from Circuit Court Judge Fred Stine, who presided over the case.
The prosecution, though, questioned whether Swope was truly remorseful, citing five other examples that occurred between January 2014 and March 2014, in addition to January's bomb threat, of false reporting to which Swope ultimately admitted, including reporting a "person down" at Evergreen Terrace, a person with difficulty breathing at Woodland Hills, a drowning at the Southgate Community Center, and smoke on the third floor of Highlands High School.
Swope was identified as the suspect in the bomb threat case on March 20, almost two months after calling in the threat on January 15, 2014. One of his final phony calls, however occurred March 6, 2014 where Swope called and said there was a fire on the third floor at Highlands High School.
Regarding the bomb threat, prosecuting attorney Adam Hill, of the Campbell County Commonwealth's Attorneys office, rebutted the defense's notion that Swope is the victim, saying, "There was not just one victim, there were hundreds if not thousands."
Elaborating on the case against Swope after the punishment was handed down, Hill said, "There was a clear escalation in calls. He did it because he felt excited, exhilarated. He didn't stop these calls because he knew it was wrong, he stopped because he was caught."
But by the end of Monday's proceedings, Judge Stine was not satisfied, saying, "I've been sitting here this entire time wondering if the Commonwealth is going to bring somebody from the high school, somebody in a position of authority," to testify to the full impact Swope's bomb threat had that January morning.
Stine allowed the prosecution until Wednesday morning to provide such a witness.
Brian Robinson, Principal at Highlands High School, was brought in to testify, describing the morning the call was made and how he learned of the threat, saying Highlands Assistant Principal's secretary came into Robinson's office "quite distraught and visibly shaken, which was out of the ordinary." She went on to say someone had just called in a bomb threat with a distorted voice, 'like a computer,' saying the school should be evacuated. The phone number was reportedly disguised to appear as if the call was placed from inside the school building.
On any given school day morning, by 7:00 a.m., which is approximately when the threat was made, Highlands has anywhere from 150-200 students, or nearly 10-15% of the student body, already on campus for early bird classes.
Echoing a number of the witnesses called by the defense to attest to Swope's character, Robinson continued, "Tyler and I knew each other well. I was proud of him, and I had about as positive feelings for Tyler as any student I've had. He was a bit of an underdog. He'd always surprise you with his kindness, his helpfulness. (But after the bomb threat) there was confusion, hurt, loss of trust."
Robinson said that the secretary who took the call was visibly shaken again on the one-year anniversary of the call last month.
"When you violate the trust of the school, put students in danger, incarceration is probably an appropriate response," Robinson continued. "I believe the consequence should be clear enough that this discourages others from doing this again."
Fort Thomas Police Officer Michael Rowland, who responded to the scene on the day of the bomb threat, also testified that all of Swope's false reports were serious matters, as well, in that they diverted valuable resources from the department and put first responders and nearby residents' lives in jeopardy.
Ultimately, Stine said he wanted to strike a balance between handing down a punishment that fits the crime while also considering the individual, saying that, had Swope had any previous criminal record, and absent all those who testified to his character, the sentence would have been more severe.
"These are serious crimes and there must be a price an individual has to pay,"Stine said to Swope while issuing his sentence. "Your life is not over. You've a very diverse person and I cannot fathom why you did this. If you had anything of a criminal record before this, you'd likely have done the five years. There's a balance judges must strike between punishments fitting the crime and tailoring them to an individual."
Taliaferro said he found Stine's ruling fair. "This sentence will be good for Tyler, the community and his family," he said. "He'll stay here in Campbell County and he'll be treated well. He'll make a difference now because he'll help other people. He's such a fine young man. I just thank the Lord Judge Stine assigned him community service. In some ways this was a blessing to Tyler."
Of the 500 hours of community service Swope must perform, 150 must be spent speaking to students about how this event has impacted his life.
"I want others to see this effect on you so that people don't attempt to do this again," Stine said.
Written by Pat LaFleur for Fort Thomas Matters, re-published with permission