Man charged with obstructing officer after drone spotted near police copter

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The Los Angeles city attorney’s office charged a man Tuesday with obstructing a peace officer for allegedly flying a drone too close to a police helicopter.

Martin Sheldon, 57, was charged with two counts of obstructing a peace officer in performance of his duties and faces up to $1,000 in fines and a year in jail, officials said.

“Video footage from the device allegedly showed the drone fly towards the police helicopter, as well as its spotlight, and numerous police units below” on Aug. 27, the city attorney’s office said in a statement.


A police helicopter was helping officers on the ground in East Hollywood look for a person around Western Avenue and Sunset Boulevard, where police had set up a perimeter, when the drone flew nearby, said LAPD Officer Nuria Vanegas.

The helicopter “had to make some movements to avoid” the drone, she said. Officers found Sheldon in a nearby parking lot and took him and his drone into custody.

“Using a drone to interfere with a police investigation places our officers and the public at serious risk,” City Atty. Mike Feuer said in a statement. “My office will hold those who recklessly operate these devices accountable for their actions.”

As civilian drone use has become more prevalent – especially over crowded public places and areas inaccessible by foot like wildfire zones and inside police perimeters – state and local lawmakers have sought ways to regulate their use.

Earlier this month, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have prohibited drone flights up to 350 feet above private property without the property owner’s consent. In vetoing the bill, Brown said the bill was well-intentioned but “could expose the occasional hobbyist and the FAA-approved commercial user alike to burdensome litigation and new causes of action.”

Drone flights over wildfire areas are already prohibited due to temporary flight restrictions issued by state and federal fire agencies, but recent incidents have reignited the effort to enforce them.


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