The drama over drones at the Standing Rock Pipeline Protest continues. Two protestors have been charged with drone related crimes. North Dakota officials say that these may be the first drone related criminal cases on record in the state.
Myron C. Dewey, drone operator, journalist, and owner of Digital Smoke Signals, has been filming via drone at Standing Rock for several months. Morton County law enforcement has now charged him with stalking in an incident which took place on October 8, 2016. Dewey allegedly flew his drone over the private security forces hired by Energy Transfer Partners, taking images of their faces. The complaint alleges that the drone filming was deliberately intimidating:
At said time and place the above-named defendant harassed, frightened and/or intimidated security workers on a job site by using a drone to record and photograph individuals on the job site, their vehicles, license plates and/or where they were working which made them fear fro their lives and their families’ lives.
Aaron Sean Turgeon, another native journalist documenting the protests with a drone, has been charged with reckless endangerment through use of his drone for flying near a Highway Patrol aircraft on September 6, 2016. The charge alleges that Turgeon was flying over 400 feet in altitude and too close to a law enforcement aircraft.
The court affidavit says: “the reckless operation of the drone put the NDHP aircraft pilot in greater danger due to the possibility of an in-air collision that could have easily resulted in serious injury or death to the pilot.”
Turgeon is also charged with misdemeanor reckless endangerment for allegedly flying a drone above 150 to 200 protesters, and with misdemeanor physical obstruction of a government function for preventing law enforcement officials from taking his drone.
On a page where Turgeon, otherwise known as Prolific the Rapper, is raising funds for his defense the drone operator says that he was flying safely, and was only charged when his connection with Dewey became public: “Morton County Sheriffs office put an illigitimate felony on me for peacefully and safely filming with my drone. They did so 6 weeks after the alleged incident, and put the felony on me after I was on Myron Dewey’s live stream explaining to a South Dakota Highway patrol officer that Morton County Sheriffs office is doing things that seem unconstitutional and unamerican. They put 2 counts of Reckless Endangerment on me, 1 being a felony, and 1 count of Obstruction of a Government function.”
Attorneys representing the protestors have questioned use of drones by the pipeline company and law enforcement, with the ACLU and National Lawyers Guild filing open records requests to find out what surveillance tools have been used. Drone attorneys have also expressed concern over videos documenting law enforcement shooting at drones, which is a federal offense.
Miriam McNabb is the Editor-in-Chief of DRONELIFE and CEO of JobForDrones, a professional drone services marketplace, and a fascinated observer of the emerging drone industry and the regulatory environment for drones. Miriam has a degree from the University of Chicago and over 20 years of experience in high tech sales and marketing for new technologies.
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