By Brian Bondus
Charges have been dropped against a Springfield man arrested for flying his drone over a traffic accident this spring, putting a spotlight on the lack of laws and education available for residents and law enforcement to deal with unmanned aerial vehicles.
“We were kind of dealing with a unique situation and a lot of times our laws don’t exactly fit all the facts when you are dealing with new or different technologies,” Springfield’s Chief Prosecutor Marc Ross said.
Kele Stanley was arrested April 12 and charged with misconduct at an emergency and disorderly conduct. A felony charge of obstructing official business was previously dropped.
Ross dropped the remaining charges Monday against Stanley, who agreed to attend a drone safety class at Clark State Community College. Stanley also paid more than $7,000 in attorney fees, more than $660 in court costs and $500 for his class at Clark State.
In the original incident report, Clark County deputies said they told Stanley to land his drone because Careflight was on its way to respond to the crash.
Stanley said he was never told that the medical helicopter was on its way, and that’s why he kept flying his drone and recording footage.
Footage retrieved from the drone confirmed Stanley’s claim.
“The footage obviously gave us some additional evidence to look at and ultimately shed some light on the sequence of events and what was going on,” Ross said.
In future cases concerning data collecting devices, the prosecutor said he would like to review the footage if it is legal before charges are filed.
The Clark State class increased his knowledge on the issue, Stanley said Tuesday, and he hopes law enforcement embrace the use of drones and video recordings. He believes his video from the crash scene is why his charges were dropped.
Ross and Stanley said the situation could have been handled better by both parties and that the FAA needs to come out with regulations clarifying the rights of residents and law enforcement when handling unmanned aircraft.
Clark County Sheriff Gene Kelly agrees that the grey area in the law concerning drones makes it difficult for law enforcement to do their job.
“As drones get more prevalent there are going to have to be provisions in the law and there are going to have to be courses like this one at Clark State,” Kelly said.
The lack of regulations reminds Kelly of when texting and driving became a public safety concern and then laws were passed.
“There are so many factors and I think it is just another technology that is ahead of the laws and regulations, which would be for everyone’s benefit,” he said.
Ross said he could see a situation in the future when these cases are handled by the federal government instead of municipalities. Some people know the laws and some know the ins-and-outs of the technology, but Ross said few know both.