Police Aggressively Pursue “Drones,” Arresting Aerial Photographers

Andrew Meyer

Police Aggressively Pursue “Drones,” Arresting Aerial Photographers in NY and Ohio

New York State police troopers arrested a man Tuesday for recording aerial video of a hospital and slapped him with a felony charge aimed at preventing and punishing peeping toms. After taking aerial photographs of the Mid Hudson Medical Group building, David Beesmer was arrested and charged with unlawful surveillance in the second degree.

Under the law, Beesmer can only be found guilty if he used his camera to view or record

“a person dressing or undressing or the sexual or other intimate parts of such person at a place and time when such person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, without such person’s knowledge or consent;”
“or record a person in a bedroom, changing room, fitting room, restroom, toilet, bathroom, washroom, shower or any room assigned to guests or patrons in a motel, hotel or inn, without such person’s knowledge or consent.”
“or record, under the clothing being worn by such person, the sexual or other intimate parts of such person.”

According to Beesmer, he started recording aerial video outside the hospital after taking his mother to a doctor’s appointment, and did not record anyone inside the building due to its tinted windows. So far, there has been no claim by police that Beesmer was attempting to record bedrooms or patients undressing, only that Beesmer was recording the facility. Unless Beesmer’s footage contains people in bedrooms or otherwise breaks the law, he has not committed unlawful surveillance and state police will have to learn what that statute is actually for.

Beesmer’s incident is just the latest in a rash of police overreaction to aerial photography. Last week, the New York City Police Department arrested Remy Castro and Wilkins Mendoza on felony endangerment charges for flying a DJI Phantom because, they claimed, an “NYPD helicopter pilot had to veer off course to avoid being struck by [their] drone.”

But that was a lie.

Two days later, the truth came out. “We have video proof that we are not following him, he’s following us. He’s endangering our lives and himself by following us,” said Jonathan Castro, one of the pilot’s brothers, according to the New York Daily News. “He’s wasting taxpayers money following a little drone. It’s not our fault it’s not illegal.”

The air traffic control recordings, obtained by Vice’s Jason Koebler, indicate that the NYPD pilot observed the Phantom near the George Washington bridge and flew at the “drone” – properly called an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or RC copter – and not the other way around. Castro and Mendoza’s video evidence from the Phantom’s flight may help them defeat the felony charge against them, similar to the case of another recently arrested UAV photographer in Ohio.

In the video above, Kele Stanley launched his RC copter to observe several ambulances. Within four minutes, he found himself under arrest for “disorderly conduct at a crime scene.” Deputy Brian Melchi claimed that Stanley was interfering with an incoming helicopter landing, demanded to know who Stanley was with, and finally arrested Stanley after he challenged Melchi’s threat to enforce a nonexistent law during this exchange:

Deputy Melchi: “You will go to jail next time”
Stanley: “I’ll be at all these accidents.”
Deputy Melchi: “Turn around. [Handcuffs Stanley] It’s called disorderly conduct at a crime scene.”

Thanks to Stanley’s video, the disorderly conduct charge was dismissed, and according to Stanley’s calculations, the incoming helicopter that Deputy Melchi was so concerned with was 13 miles away at the time.

If Beesmer, Castro and Mendoza’s videos are as conclusive as Stanley’s, they too can look forward to a dismissal of the charges. With enough dismissals, police will get the message that aerial photography is not a crime. Until then, the prosecutors in some of these cases should start pursuing a more accurate charge – and prosecute the arresting officers who filed a false police report.

For news tips on aerial photography and drones, contact Andrew Meyer, PINAC’s staff writer covering UAV photography, the First Amendment, and more. Follow him on twitter @theandrewmeyer.


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