Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Trucker who shot down drone could face another day in court

You might know OOIDA Member William Merideth by the handle “Droneslayer.” If that name doesn’t ring a bell, chances are you’re at least passingly familiar with the story of a Kentucky father who blasted a drone out of the sky above his home last summer because he believed the craft was taking pictures and video of his family and property.
Yep, that’s our William. The 47-year-old resident of Louisville owns a small trucking company that hauls general freight regionally. It appears he may be headed back to court after the owner of the dispatched drone filed a petition in the U.S. District Court of Kentucky, seeking to reclaim $1,500 in damages to his drone and a ruling from the federal court that would give drone operators the same legal protection as helicopters and other aircraft. That would supersede trespassing claims like the one Merideth made to justify blasting the aircraft out of the sky.
“I had no idea what the person’s intentions were,” he said in an interview with Land Line. “It had a video camera mounted on it. I felt like it wouldn’t have been any different if he’d have been standing in my backyard videotaping my family. It’s a good thing it was the drone and not the individual standing in my yard because he’d have got the same treatment.”

In a petition filed in federal court on Jan. 4, plaintiff John David Boggs, the owner of the drone, claims he was neither trespassing nor invading anyone’s privacy with his drone. His attorneys argue that the state court judge’s decision to dismiss criminal charges against Merideth “set the stage for a conflict between state-based claims of trespass to property, invasion of privacy and trespass to chattles and long-standing exclusive federal jurisdiction over the national airspace and the protection of air safety.”

“The tension between private property rights and right to traverse safely the national airspace was resolved during the formative days of manned aviation,” the petition stated. “The issue is now arising in the context of unmanned aircraft, also known as ‘drones.’”

The petition seeks declaratory judgment from the court to “resolve that tension and define clearly the rights of aircraft operators and property owners.”

Merideth’s attorney, Chad McCoy, says he plans to continue to fight against the notion that drone rights should supersede the rights of property owners.

For his part, Merideth said he and his family and several neighbors were out on July 26, 2015, enjoying a summer afternoon, grilling and socializing, when the drone made multiple low passes over his home and the homes of his neighbors. After the second pass, Merideth says he went into his home and retrieved his Benelli M1 Super 90 shotgun. On the third pass over his home, he unloaded three rounds at the drone and knocked it out of the sky.

The drone’s owner Boggs, disputes this version of events, claiming he was 200 yards above the property when Merideth opened fire. In the initial aftermath, police actually arrested Merideth and charged him with criminal mischief and wanton endangerment. Those charges were subsequently dismissed by a state circuit judge in October, after several neighbors testified in court on Merideth’s behalf, corroborating his story.

Despite the ongoing legal concerns, and the wave of publicity from both domestic and foreign news agencies, Merideth says he wouldn’t do anything different.

“No sir, I would have done the exact same thing today,” he said. “In today’s times, we don’t know what these people are doing. Was he looking for something to steal? Was he stalking my kids? Is he a pedophile? Is it video voyeurism? I had no idea. I’ve got nothing against the drones. If he’d have flown over my house, let’s say at 50 feet, and just went zooming by, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. The fact that he hovered over my house three times was harassment and showed intent on his part.”