WASHINGTON, Pa. (KDKA) — A photo of what appears to be an operations plan in Washington County by law enforcement went viral on social media Thursday.
The photo made Phish fans believe the Washington County Sheriff’s Office would be targeting them at next week’s concerts at the Pavilion at Star Lake in Burgettstown. The sheriff’s office called it a hoax.
Katie Irwin of Connecticut thought back to 2012 and her experience with law enforcement when she went to see Phish at the Pavilion at Star Lake.
“They told us that Phish fans are usually very easy to manage and that they’ve never really had any big problems,” Irwin said. “My experience was that they were pretty laid back.”
It’s why she was surprised to see a specific post while scrolling on social media Thursday morning. The post showed a photo of a so-called internal document from the Washington County Sheriff’s Office about a joint task force enforcement operation with the FBI and DEA for July 21 and 22, which is when Phish is set to perform at the venue.
“I thought it was quite aggressive that they would put this kind of effort into getting people into trouble,” Irwin said.
The operation, “Phish in a Barrel,” described teams under names like Beaver, Otter, and Badger working at different checkpoints. At the bottom, the document is signed by Sheriff Tony Andronas.
Deputy Sheriff Elizabeth Davidson said the sheriff learned about it from an upset caller. He had no idea what the caller was talking about until the office found the order online.
“The sheriff was like, ‘I never ordered anything like that.’ He was very confused,” Davidson said.
Davidson said it was a hoax. They haven’t worked at the venue in years and only help if there’s a critical event.
When you place an official document and the hoax document side-by-side, you can see it is not what the office’s official letterhead looks like and it is not officially signed by the sheriff.
“There’s nothing listed on this operations plan for targeted enforcement. It’s just a lot of officers going here and there,” Davidson said.
In fact, the sheriff’s office learned Virginia State Police encountered a similar hoax in 2018. Davidson said his office works hard to have a strong relationship with the community and hopes the perpetrator realizes the impact of their actions.
“You’re mimicking an order, and you’re causing chaos and painting a department in a negative light,” Davidson said.
Irwin said nothing about the document made her think it was fake. She didn’t learn until hours later.
“At the end of the day, people just have too much time on their hands,” Irwin said.
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office is investigating along with the FBI and the DEA.
Virginia State Police never caught the person responsible in their case.