The first American man arrested with the help of a Predator drone has also become the first man who will go to jail because of it.
Tuesday, Rodney Brossart, a North Dakotan cattle rancher, was sentenced to three years in prison, with all but six months suspended, for terrorizing police officers who were trying to arrest him at his property in 2011. The strange case garnered national attention because it was the first time a law enforcement agency had used an unmanned aerial vehicle to assist in carrying out an arrest.
Brossart's trouble began in 2011, when six cows wandered onto his property. After Brossart refused to return the cows to their owner, the Grand Forks, N.D., SWAT team was called in to arrest the man. What followed was a 16-hour, armed standoff that eventually ended when the SWAT team called in a Predator drone on loan from the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol. The drone was able to locate Brossart and his three armed sons on the property and let police know it was safe it make to make an arrest. Brossart was allegedly tased during the arrest.
At the time of his arrest, Brossart told U.S. News that he felt the use of the drone was illegal, and that he was "not laying over here playing dead" on his defense. His attorney, Bruce Quick, said that the use of the drone and the tasing constituted "guerrilla-like police tactics" and that the drone was "dispatched without judicial approval or a warrant."
The court disagreed: In July 2012, U.S. District Judge Joel Medd upheld the use of drones in the case, saying that "there was no improper use of an unmanned aerial vehicle" and that the drone "appears to have had no bearing on these charges being contested here." Medd refused to throw out the case. Tuesday, a jury upheld that decision, finding Brossart guilty of terrorizing police and acquitting him of theft and criminal mischief.
The timing of the conviction is particularly interesting: On Tuesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil rights organization fighting against police use of drones, revealed documents that show that Customs and Border Patrol loaned its Predator drones 700 times between 2010 and 2012. The agency had previously admitted to lending out the drones 500 times, but said it misplaced the records for 200 additional flights, and "discovered that it did not release all entries from the daily reports for 2010-2012" on the eve of a federal hearing in a case involving EFF. Despite lending drones out to groups such as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, the Drug Enforcement Agency, and various state and local law enforcement groups, Brossart's remains the only arrest in which law enforcement has admitted to using a drone.
Brossart was also ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. His three sons, who were also arrested during the incident, each pled guilty to misdemeanor charges of menacing law enforcement officers and were sentenced to a year of probation.
According to news reports out of North Dakota, Brossart apologized for his actions and made no mention of the drone use during sentencing.
"I recognize that I should have handled the situation differently," he told Medd, reading from a prepared statement. "I take responsibility for my actions, and I will do what I can to ensure it won't happen again."