LOS ANGELES – City Attorney Mike Feuer today announced that his office has filed two criminal cases against drone operators, the first under the City’s new ordinance restricting drone operation.
“Operating a drone near trafficked airspace places pilots and the public at serious risk,” said Feuer. “We'll continue to use our new City law to hold drone operators accountable and keep our residents safe.”
Michael Ponce, 20, and Arvel Chappell, 35, were each charged with two criminal counts stemming from two separate incidents including allegedly operating a drone within five miles of an airport without permission and allegedly operating the device in excess of 400 feet above ground level. Chappell was also charged with one additional count of operating a drone at a time other than during daylight. If convicted, Ponce and Chappell could face up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Arraignment for both defendants is scheduled for February 22, 2016 in Department 48.
On December 9, 2015, Ponce was allegedly observed by an LAPD airship operating a drone in excess of 400 feet over Griffith Park and within three miles of a number of hospital heliports. The drone was seized and Ponce was cited.
On December 12, 2015, Chappell was cited by police for allegedly operating a drone in excess of 400 feet and within ¼ mile of Hooper Heliport, the LAPD Air Support Division’s base at Piper Tech in downtown Los Angeles. An air unit coming in to land allegedly had to alter its path in order to avoid the device. Ground units were notified and the device was seized.
In October, 2015, the Los Angeles City Council unanimously approved the new ordinance restricting the operation of drone devices. The City Attorney’s office has previously prosecuted drone operators under existing laws including trespassing for flying over certain areas and obstructing police activity.
"While people may think that flying a drone is a minor or victimless crime, the results could be devastating," said Councilmember Mitchell Englander, Chair of the Public Safety Committee. "We saw firsthand what happened during a major brush fire where drones grounded firefighting helicopters. A single drone can take down a helicopter or an airplane. If drones fly, first responders can't."
Assistant Supervising Attorney Benjamin Karabian is prosecuting the cases.