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: 2459

Comment by Austin Laws on February 18, 2014 at 4:21pm

he deserves to have it taken from him. filming a fatal car crash is sick and disgusting.

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 18, 2014 at 4:29pm

Then the other journalists present should have there's taken from them as well, Austin?

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 18, 2014 at 8:59pm

Their "standard equipment," complete with zoom capability that the drone does not have, were able to and did in fact obtain close-up footage of vehicle. That footage aired.

The drone's camera took stills that show no detail at all. And it never aired because he was not on assignment for the station at the time he took the photos.

Here's some footage from the journalists on the ground:

And here's a sample still from the drone journalist at 150' up: (he did not take any photos at low altitude)

How are the still photos from the drone even remote as invasive as the imagery from the journalists on the ground? 

I fully understand one having a personal distaste for some of what journalists are required to do while performing their duties. But journalists cover both happy and tragic stories all the time because both are "news." And journalists cover news.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 18, 2014 at 10:34pm

A press camera on the ground would have to be thrown by the photographer to cause anybody injury.

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 19, 2014 at 3:42am

Gary, he was not flying over any crowd, (he was off to the side of the incident), and a full-size news chopper would present a lot more danger than a 2.5 lb drone. :)

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 19, 2014 at 11:16am
To illustrate the difference between the views from the street-level journalists vs. the drone journalist, here's a link to the actual imagery from both. The street-level view is what aired on TV.
Comment by criro1999 on February 19, 2014 at 12:12pm

is the link removed?

Comment by Peter Sachs on February 19, 2014 at 12:21pm
No. I just tried it. And others have already downloaded it. Weird. Getting an error message?


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