Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer announced Wednesday that his office has filed two criminal cases against drone operators, the first prosecutions under the city’s new ordinance restricting drone operation.
“Operating a drone near trafficked airspace places pilots and the public at serious risk,” Feuer said. “We’ll continue to use our new city law to hold drone operators accountable and keep our residents safe.”
Michael Ponce, 20, and Arvel Chappell, 35, were each charged with two criminal counts stemming from separate incidents. The charges allege the defendants operated a drone within five miles of an airport without permission and allegedly operated the device at an altitude higher than 400 feet. Chappell was also charged with one additional count of operating a drone at a time other than during daylight. If convicted, Ponce and Chappell could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Arraignment for both defendants is scheduled for Feb. 22.
On Dec. 9, 2015, Ponce was allegedly observed by an LAPD helicopter operating a drone in excess of 400 feet over Griffith Park and within three miles of hospital heliports. The drone was seized and Ponce was cited.
On Dec. 12, 2015, Chappell was cited by police for allegedly operating a drone at an altitude higher than 400 feet and within a quarter-mile of Hooper Heliport, the LAPD Air Support Division base in downtown Los Angeles. A helicopter coming in to land allegedly had to alter its path to avoid the drone. Officers on the ground were notified and the device was seized.
The Los Angeles City Attorney’s office has prosecuted drone operators under existing laws – including trespassing – for flying over certain areas and obstructing police activity.
“While people may think that flying a drone is a minor or victimless crime, the results could be devastating,” said Councilman Mitchell Englander, 12th District, chair of the Los Angeles City Council Public Safety Committee. “We saw firsthand what happened during a major brush fire where drones grounded firefighting helicopters. A single drone can take down a helicopter or an airplane. If drones fly, first responders can’t.”
Assistant supervising attorney Benjamin Karabian is prosecuting the cases.
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