Drone Farmer Arrest Results in 3-Year Sentence


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A North Dakota man has become the first American sentenced to jail time due, in part, to the use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (a.k.a. “drone” or UAV).

The story goes back to 2011, when half a dozen wayward cows wandered onto the property of Rodney Brossart. When asked to return the cattle, he refused and a SWAT team out of Grand Forks, ND, was dispatched to arrest him. But Brossart wouldn’t have it. He and his three sons grabbed guns and hunkered down on the farm, keeping the SWAT team at bay for 16 hours. The authorities had to call in a favor from Homeland Security, which loaned the local police a Predator drone that enabled them to gather information on the Brossarts’ position and eventually subdue them.

While Brossart was exonerated of the original allegations of cattle theft, he was eventually charged with terroristic threatening of police. He contested the charges on the grounds that use of the drone constituted a warrantless search of his property. Brossart attorney Bruce Quick claimed that the drone was "dispatched without judicial approval or a warrant" and that the further tasing of Brossart in the course of the arrest constituted "guerrilla-like police tactics." A federal district court disagreed with the drone argument, citing that the UAV had no direct bearing on the charges that Brossart had terrorized police.

The federal government has owned up to using drones regularly for border patrol and drug enforcement purposes. Even so, a recent report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a group that opposes drone use for domestic criminal investigations, released a report earlier this month that revealed that the federal government has used the vehicles hundreds of times more than what has gone on the official record. Brossart’s case was the first in which a UAV has been used for municipal law enforcement.

Brossart was sentenced to three years with only six months of the sentence suspended. His sons were each convicted of misdemeanor charges and sentenced to a year of probation.

Now we turn to the real question: how did four farmers hold off an entire SWAT team for 16 hours?

Image via Wikimedia Commons