Journalist sues police who grounded his drone

From Motherboard:

A journalist suspended by his news channel for flying a drone near the scene of ... in Connecticut is now planning to sue the Hartford City Police Department for lost wages and additional damages. 

Earlier this month, Pedro Rivera made national headlines when he flew his drone above a fatal car accident. He was questioned by Hartford City Police and eventually allowed to leave, but officers with the department called WFSB television, where Rivera works as a photojournalist. WFSB suspended him for a week while police and the station investigated whether he did anything illegal.

Rivera has hired Norm Pattis, a prominent Connecticut lawyer who specializes in civil rights violations, to file the lawsuit, which he said will be filed in Connecticut Monday or Tuesday.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. I wasn’t charged, I didn’t violate anything. They went after my job,” Rivera said of the police. “I think what happened to me falls in the category of the war on cameras by the police. Whenever the police are videotaped, they try to detain people and confiscate the camera.” 

The Federal Aviation Administration is still investigating the case, but because Rivera was flying his drone as a private citizen, not an employee of WFSB, they’ll likely have no recourse. Flying a drone as a hobbyist has always been legal; flying one for commercial purposes might be as well. Plus Rivera says he’s never sold footage to the station.

Journalists are increasingly looking at using drones to cut the cost of taking aerial photography and video. Rivera says he got permission from WFSB to fly as a hobbyist, and says that in the future, cases like his will become more common. 

“As long as we’re persistent, I hope in five years that this will be common,” Rivera said.


Rivera’s case, even if he wins, isn’t likely to spur any sweeping legal changes—the legality of flying drones commercially is still very much up for de...—but it could embolden others who are currently afraid of running afoul of the FAA or law enforcement.

The act of creating expressive or newsworthy content, including the taking of photographs from public spaces, is protected by the First Amendment regardless of the equipment used,” said Brendan Schulman, a drone lawyer in New York. “Some state legislators who recently have proposed blanket legislation restricting drone photography appear to have overlooked First Amendment considerations. I am surprised that news agencies have not been more proactive about this issue, as important rights are at stake in the regulatory process.”

Views: 2468

Comment by Thomas J Coyle III on February 17, 2014 at 5:35pm

On the other hand, journalists may be sued by individuals for invasion of privacy in such an incident as this was.


TCIII ArduRover2 Developer

Comment by Andrew Rabbitt on February 17, 2014 at 7:35pm

What privacy can one expect in the middle of a public highway?

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 17, 2014 at 8:14pm

Every person has a First Amendment right to photograph, from a public place, anything that is in plain sight.

Aside from that, I cannot comment on this case til after it's filed tomorrow.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 17, 2014 at 9:26pm

Well if the FAA decide to go for reckless endangerment this chap has an issue. He was not flying within AMA guideslines. The AMA being the CBO of FAA choice.

You can't fly in town shouting I am a hobbyist, he removed his rights when he did that.

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 17, 2014 at 9:34pm

[Not legal advice] There's absolutely nothing that would even remotely support a claim of recklessness under Part 91. Moreover, there are no federal statutes or regulations, and there is no case law concerning remote-controlled model aircraft, whatsoever. Anything written or stated by the FAA are "voluntarily guidelines" or "policies," none of which is enforceable law. The AMA guidelines are merely the "recommendations" made by a private entity that can be ignored entirely from a legal standpoint.

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 17, 2014 at 9:36pm

If you want a reference, see And as it states there, it's not intended to be legal advice.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 18, 2014 at 12:37am

Well lets see how the big case spins out and then we will know for sure. It would seem unwise to operate in the centre of town with a system that has not been tested formally. 

Comment by Mike on February 18, 2014 at 9:06am

Privacy? Same area (Google Maps)

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 18, 2014 at 9:13am

^^ Excellent point, Mike.

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 18, 2014 at 10:03am

Here's the actual complaint if you're interested, filed in Federal District Court this morning: 

Pedro Rivera v. Foley, Yergeau & Hartford PD


You need to be a member of DIY Drones to add comments!

Join DIY Drones

© 2019   Created by Chris Anderson.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service