Drone Operator Charged With Interfering With LAPD Helicopter

Drone Operator Charged With Interfering With LAPD HelicopterEXPAND
Don McCullough / via Flickr

The L.A. City Attorney's Office today filed charges against a man accused of using a drone to interfere with a police chase.

Martin Sheldon, 57, faces two misdemeanor counts of obstructing a police officer. Sheldon is accused of piloting his drone toward an LAPD helicopter in the midst of a chase on Aug. 27. According to the city attorney's office, the police were looking for an assault suspect in Hollywood when the helicopter was forced to make an "evasive move" and break off from the search to avoid the drone.

Richard was found in a parking lot on Sunset Boulevard, where he was apprehended. The drone and the video were confiscated.

The charges come as lawmakers are debating how to address the proliferation of drones, and how to balance safety and privacy regulations with First Amendment rights. Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson and Assemblyman Mike Gatto, both Democrats, authored legislation that would have restricted the use of drones above private property. Media organizations, which are increasingly deploying drones to cover news events, objected.

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed the bill. Gatto authored another bill that would make it a crime to fly a drone above a wildfire, thereby interfering with firefighting efforts. That bill is on the governor's desk.

In this case, City Attorney Mike Feuer used pre-existing law to charge Sheldon with obstructing the police. The maximum penalty is a year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"We believe we have the tools and we’re not shy about using them," said Frank Mateljan, a spokesman in Feuer's office. "If legislators want to give us additional tools, that will be welcome, but we’re not sitting back on our heels and waiting for something to happen."

Gatto noted that Sheldon might claim to be a citizen journalist, with as much right to film the police as KCAL or KTLA helicopters.

"There's no easy answers on this," Gatto said. "The state can step in, and we're prepared to step in and pass laws to make sure police can function, but what we need here is the federal government to act."

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