Man who shot down drone had a ‘right’ to do it, says judge

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A judge on Monday decided that William Merideth, the Kentucky, US, man who got busted for shooting down a drone that had been flying over his property, had a right to take that thing out.

The hearing, in Bullitt County, lasted just over 2 hours.

The incident happened in July.

Merideth’s sunbathing daughters had come in from the back garden to tell their father about a drone flying overhead.

After police arrested Merideth for taking the drone out with his shotgun and three blasts of Number 8 birdshot, he claimed that the drone’s operator, neighbor David Boggs, was violating his privacy by hovering his drone over Merideth’s property and spying on his family.

Police in the town of Hillview arrested Merideth and charged him with wanton endangerment and criminal mischief for firing his gun within city limits.

Telemetry from the drone has been an issue since then: the data showed that Bogg’s craft was in flight for just short of 2 minutes before it was shot down, and that it was well over 200 feet above the ground.

The video shows that the drone stops and hovers – not on Merideth’s property, but close to his property line – for about 26 seconds.

At Monday’s hearing, Merideth’s attorney asked Boggs if he chose to hover over people’s homes in the neighborhood, WDRB reports.

“No, that’s not true,” Boggs replied. He testified that flight data showed the drone was flying higher than Merideth stated.

But Judge Rebecca Ward said that since at least two witnesses could see the drone below the tree line, it was an invasion of privacy.

That means that Merideth was within his rights to shoot at the drone, Ward said:

He had a right to shoot at this drone, and I'm gonna dismiss this charge.

The judge dismissed both charges.

In August, Kentucky Rep. Diane St. Onge prefiled a drone harassment bill for the 2016 legislative session.

Her bill defines and establishes penalties for those who use drones to harass or invade others’ privacy. First offense is a warning, second offense is a Class B misdemeanor, and subsequent offenses are a Class A misdemeanor, under the legislation.

The bill dictates that a person is guilty of harassment when they hover over or land on someone’s property or when they use a drone for no legitimate purpose, to commit acts that alarm or seriously annoy someone.

Merideth said the outcome of his hearing will set a precedent for similar incidents, though he’s not advocating that everybody should go grab guns and shoot stuff out of the sky willy-nilly:

The next time something like this happens, they're gonna refer to it. Now I don't encourage people to just go out and start blasting stuff for no reason — but three times in one day, three times over the course of a year, six times total, over one property? That's not right, that's harassment.

Boggs is reportedly going to push the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office to take the case to the grand jury.

Meanwhile, in other low-flying, unmanned aerial vehicle news, a New Mexico court has found that state police crossed the Fourth Amendment line into illegal search when a police helicopter flew low enough to peek into a greenhouse to check out a marijuana growing operation – low enough to kick up dust and debris, send a neighbor’s solar panel flying, terrify neighbors, and damage their shrubbery.

Image of drone crashing courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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