Drones Fought The Law, But Who Won?

October 27, 2016 By Patrick S. Miller
UAS Magazine

When, if ever, is it appropriate for law enforcement officers to shoot down a drone? That question was put to the test earlier this week over the skies of southcentral North Dakota where protesters from around the country have gathered to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, which would carry oil from the state’s Bakken shale formation to a terminal in Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe objects to the pipeline crossing the Missouri River about a mile north of its reservation.

According to a news release issued Sunday by the Morton County Sheriff’s Dept.—which has jurisdiction in the area—a drone was flying directly above a law enforcement helicopter being used for surveillance. According to the statement, “A sheriff on board the helicopter reported to law enforcement on the ground that the helicopter pilot and passengers were ‘in fear of their lives,’ and that the ‘drone came after us.’”

Officers on the ground fired buckshot and less-than-lethal rounds at the drone, striking and damaging it, but not bringing it down. Citing Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations against shooting at aircraft, the owner of Dr0ne2bwild reported the incident to the FAA. The sheriff’s department said a number of drones in the area are operating outside of FAA guidelines “in a reckless and unsafe manner.” Those reports have been forwarded for investigation to the Morton County State’s Attorney in North Dakota.

Putting aside the question of the pipeline, I asked James Mackler, an attorney with the Frost Brown Todd law firm in Nashville who specializes in UAS law, for his thoughts on the situation. He is representing John Boggs of Hillsview, Kentucky, in a civil lawsuit against William Meredith who shot down Boggs’ drone because he claimed it was violating his privacy.

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