Human Rights

Unprecedented: Man Sent to Jail After Drone Used in His Arrest

First American to serve time following an arrest made possible by a domestic drone.

For the first time in the history of the United States, a man has been sentenced to jail for an arrest made possible by the use of a drone.

Rodney Brossart was arrested in 2011 for refusing to relinquish six cows that had wandered onto his property. After a 16-hour standoff with the Grand Forks, North Dakota SWAT team, police called in a predator drone on loan from the Department of Homeland Security's Customs and Border Patrol. The drone located Brossart and his three armed sons, then notified police of the opportune time to step in and make an arrest. 

Brossart's defense attorney, Bruce Quick, attempted to make the case that the use of the drone was unlawful on the grounds that police did not have judicial approval or a warrant to use the machine. 

A federal judge disagreed in 2012 after it concluded that the use of the drone "appeared to have no bearing on these charges being contested here," and yesterday a jury upheld the judge's decision, finding Brossart guilty of terrorizing police. 

Also on Tuesday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that the Customs and Border Patrol had lent out its predator drones 700 times between 2010 and 2012 to a number of different agencies, including Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and the Drug Enforcement Agency, among other state and local law enforcement groups. 

However, the Brossart case remains the only one thus far in which law enforcement has admitted to using a drone. 

Aaron Cantú is an investigator for the Marijuana Arrest Research Project and an independent journalist based in Brooklyn. Follow him on Twitter @aaronmiguel_
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