Free Markets, Free People

Property and privacy rights? Or drone rights?

Interesting story:

A Kentucky man shot down an $1,800 drone hovering over his sunbathing daughter and was then arrested and charged with first degree criminal mischief and first-degree wanton endangerment.

“My daughter comes in and says, ‘Dad, there’s a drone out here flying,’ ” William H. Merideth, 47, told a local Fox News affiliate reported Tuesday. The Bullitt County father shot at the drone, which crashed in a field near his yard Sunday night.

The owner of the drone claims he was only trying to take pictures of a friend’s house, the station reported.

“I went and got my shotgun and I said, ‘I’m not going to do anything unless it’s directly over my property,’ ” Mr. Merideth said, noting that the drone briefly disappeared when his daughter waved it off. “Within a minute or so, here it came. It was hovering over top of my property, and I shot it out of the sky. I didn’t shoot across the road, I didn’t shoot across my neighbor’s fences, I shot directly into the air.”

Most people would say, “good for him”.  He felt his privacy and property rights were being violated by some possible peeping Tom and he took action to protect both.  As he says, he “didn’t shoot across the road, I didn’t shoot across my neighbor’s fences, I shot directly into the air.”

He had a good, sound reason to take action:

“He didn’t just fly over,” he said. “If he had been moving and just kept moving, that would have been one thing — but when he come directly over our heads, and just hovered there, I felt like I had the right.”

“You know, when you’re in your own property, within a six-foot privacy fence, you have the expectation of privacy,” he said. “We don’t know if he was looking at the girls. We don’t know if he was looking for something to steal. To me, it was the same as trespassing.”

Exactly.  The unknown, coupled with the concerns plus the fact that the drone was purposely and repeatedly being flown where it had no permission to fly, prompted Merideth to action.  And he removed the possible threat.

End of story?

Hardly.  The 4 people who were engaged in flying and hovering the drone over his property showed up to confront him.  Then the police showed up.  Who got arrested?  Well the property owner, of course.

As Scott Shackford of Hit & Run points out:

You’d think it would be obvious that it’s not a good idea to pilot an expensive piece of surveillance equipment just casually over other people’s properties, not just out of respect for other people’s privacy, but because you could lose the thing.

You’d think.  But instead it is the man who was guarding both is privacy and his property rights who ends up going to jail.  Apparently his expectation of privacy and his property rights concerning trespass weren’t enough to save him from catching a ride in the police van.

Tell me again about our “Constitutional rights” to both privacy and property?  Apparently drone’s trump them.


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23 Responses to Property and privacy rights? Or drone rights?

  • I don’t believe in any existing US property law you own the airspace over your house; I don’t believe this is anything new.

    There’s no difference in current law in firing at a drone then there would be in firing at a hovering helicopter, except in the helicopter case you could also be charged with attempted murder.

    Also, you can’t discharge a weapon up in the air in a populated area. Celebratory gunfire is not something covered under US, State or local law. And if it is, it’s probably highly restricted.

    However, the owners of the drones were stupid. I suspect there’s a fine coming their way as well.

    • Consider it was low enough for him to bag it with a shotgun, which I doubt he had loaded with deer slugs or double ought buck.

      About 40 yards is considered the effective range of bird shot (and having been showered by it when it finally succumbs to the laws of gravity – causes little ill effect outside that range – other than letting you know someone has a loaded weapon aimed in your general direction…).

      So we can presume it was traveling at something less than 120 feet straight up when he brought it down.

    • You own the space from ground level to around 100 to 300 feet in most locales (at least you did 30 some years ago).

      At the least, the shooter should heave been charged with discharging a weapon if it was a urban or suburban location.

      The pilot should have been charged with trespass (possibly criminal trespass) and voyeurism. If the daughter was under 18, it would have been pedophile voyeurism ( a felony?).

    • If a Helicopter Pilot did what that drone did, he’d be lucky to not go to jail for peeping tom someone underage. If he was employed during the act, he’d lose his job. And the FAA might have some additional words.

  • I don’t think you’re allowed to hover your helicopter over sunbathing chicks either.

    Helicopter/drone analogy don’t work.
    Until they build sentient drones everybody knows that taking them down isn’t going to harm anyone.

    • Here’s the FAA Regs regarding aircraft (which I don’t believe is what all drones are or perhaps more correctly some drones aren’t)

      §91.119 Minimum safe altitudes: General.

      Except when necessary for takeoff or landing, no person may operate an aircraft below the following altitudes:

      (a) Anywhere. An altitude allowing, if a power unit fails, an emergency landing without undue hazard to persons or property on the surface.

      (b) Over congested areas. Over any congested area of a city, town, or settlement, or over any open air assembly of persons, an altitude of 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle within a horizontal radius of 2,000 feet of the aircraft.

      (c) Over other than congested areas. An altitude of 500 feet above the surface, except over open water or sparsely populated areas. In those cases, the aircraft may not be operated closer than 500 feet to any person, vessel, vehicle, or structure.

      (d) Helicopters, powered parachutes, and weight-shift-control aircraft. If the operation is conducted without hazard to persons or property on the surface—

      (1) A helicopter may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (b) or (c) of this section, provided each person operating the helicopter complies with any routes or altitudes specifically prescribed for helicopters by the FAA; and

      (2) A powered parachute or weight-shift-control aircraft may be operated at less than the minimums prescribed in paragraph (c) of this section.

      However, you don’t get to be shot at for violating the above.

      As for the ‘sunbathing chicks’ we used to have an LZ in Alabama, the home of Ft Rucker, the US Army Aviation Flight School, that was commonly known as “LZ BUSH” and it wasn’t because of the unique Flora around the LZ.

      The particular ‘chick’ near LZ Bush liked to sunbathe nude……LZ Sunbathe just didn’t have quite the same ring.

      • See they’d probably have to rename it LZ Brazilian now 🙂

        “How many is a brazilian?”

      • Drones don’t come under FAR Part 91. They are the same class as radio controlled model aircraft (IIUC).

      • You don’t get shot because there are relatively clear deterrents in place.

    • President Sukarno of Indonesia supposedly had his presidential helicopter do this, except with bathing girls.

  • charged with first degree criminal mischief and first-degree wanton endangerment

    Naw. I’d LOVE to defend this guy on these charges before a Bullitt County jury.


    Part of discovery would be an unaltered (and they’d have to prove it) video file of the flight of this particular bumbling bee. I’m betting we’d show that the “just taking pictures of a friend’s place” would be a proven lie.

    I DO believe you have a property right to the sky directly over your property up to a certain altitude. That would be a matter of law in the jurisdiction, plus some Federal case-law. Trespass doesn’t give you the right to blow a helicopter out of the sky, but it does give you some rights. I doubt very seriously that a neighbor could get away with tethering a balloon over your pool.

    Plus, from the accounts I’ve read, this was not what you’d call a “built up area”.

    • Yeah, I’m betting that sim card data met with ‘Mr datawipe’ when they got it home.
      Splaining the trip under the awning would be hard unless his buddy’s house is on the back of a rambling tortoise and they were trying to track it down.

      • Good call;

        “Boggs said when he recovered the drone the memory card in it was gone, that will have the video sowing the moments it was shot down.”

        Mr. Meredith said he was using #8 bird shot.

        Mr. Boggs said his drone never hovered over Mr. Meredith’s home. It then seems safe to assume that Mr. Meredith, AKA “The Flash”, saw a drone transiting the grounds of his expansive estate, assessed the situation, went and got his shotgun, loaded it, took it outside, aimed and fired one (presumably) shot which took down the drone. The drone miraculously managed to fly off the extensive estate grounds before it crashed.

        Mr. Boggs and three associates subsequently found it necessary to pay a visit to Mr. Meredith and the scene of the crime, no doubt because they needed a fourth for bridge and happened to be in the area to recover their drone. That idea proved to be a poor one, as Mr. Meredith was busy walking his Glock on the front esplanade of his estate and could therefore could not come out and play.

        Were I Mr. Meredith, I would definitely go for a jury trial.

  • I think the law enforcement folks don’t want to set a precedent of allowing citizens to defend their privacy from intrusion by drones. Someday soon police drones will be a common sight.

    • As always, it’ll depend on how they’re used.

      I’m very much in favor of using drones for a lot of purposes. Both for law-enforcement/public safety (searches for lost peeples and fire-spotting, border control, etc.) and for commercial uses like pipe-line inspections and other types of surveys.

      I would also support the use of ground drones to replace a lot of SWAT activity. If you’ve got a warrant, and you think someone inside might be a killer, send in a drone. I look for the “cockroach” versions soon.

      • There are ‘drones’ that are classified, IIRC, as UAVs and have waivers under part 303 (again if I recall correctly) of the FAA regulations. Or rather the manufacturer’s of these drones have waivers that doesn’t, if I understand it, comply these UAVs to ‘aircraft’ type regulations.

        • …OR protections. They’re freaking DRONES! And, if you use one for nefarious purposes…like being a Peeping Tom…you deserve to lose your very expensive toy in a welter of goose-shot. Same as if I find a camera aimed at my grandkids’ bathroom window, it’ll be ground to powder as soon as I’ve fully documented it.


    • Yep, in a few years it will be police drones “photographing a suspect house” over sunbathing beauties.

      “nip it in the bud” – Barney Fife

  • To slightly veer this discussion: One thing is for sure; if you’re this guy you NEVER ADMIT TO SHOOTING ANYTHING.

    I would speculate that’s what got him arrested.

    If they’ve got video of you doing it, YOU STILL DO NOT ADMIT TO IT and contact an attorney before saying anything to the police.
    If they are going to arrest you anyway say nothing.

    If you think they might arrest you, say nothing.

    • Then claim you’re in compliance with the regulations and orders “NOW” and no more shootings of this nature will ever occur again.
      Just like the US Justice department.

      Or, you could possibly claim you’re really from Belize and you should be deported, but you have a daughter here in the United States and since she’s under age it would be wrong to make you leave the country. You can go to court where they will set a date for your hearing before they let you go, and then of course you just don’t show up for the hearing.
      Like the average illegal parent and many of the illegal felons.

      You could get your town to declare it’s a sanctuary city for drone shooters.

    • If they’ve got video of you doing it, YOU STILL DO NOT ADMIT TO IT and contact an attorney before saying anything to the police.
      If they are going to arrest you anyway say nothing.

      No. That’s actually pretty crappy advice. There are a few things (assuming you’ve fired a gun in self-defense) you SHOULD say to police.

      I recommend you get and read this book.

      • Boy, everything I see in research says don’t volunteer anything to the police without talking to an attorney first, particularly if you could be charged with a crime.

        • Boy, you’re mistaken. You want to be the first out with some limited but crucial information.

          The guy who wrote the book I recommended is very knowledgeable.