"If you're concerned about it, maybe there's a reason we should be flying over you, right?" That’s the callous response of one drone trade group representative when asked his opinion of those who worry about the increasing use of the unmanned aerial vehicles and the corresponding decrease in privacy and civil liberties. The man who spoke those words is Douglas McDonald, the director of special operations for Unmanned Applications Institute International and president of a North Dakota chapter of an unmanned vehicle trade group. Another North Dakotan has a different take on the use of drones in the Flickertail State.
It’s been about a year since a North Dakota man was arrested after a local SWAT team tracked him down using a Predator drone it borrowed from the Department of Homeland Security. Although the story has not been widely reported, Rodney Brossart became one of the first (if not the first) American citizens arrested by local law enforcement with the use of a federally-owned drone surveillance vehicle after holding the police at bay for over 16 hours.
Brossart’s run-in with law enforcement began after six cows found their way onto his property (about 3,000 acres near Lakota, North Dakota) and he refused to turn them over to officers. In fact, according to several sources, Brossart and a few family members ran police off his farm at the point of a gun. Naturally, police weren’t pleased with Brossart’s brand of hospitality, so they returned with a warrant, a SWAT team, and a determination to apprehend Brossart and the cows.
A standoff ensued and the Grand Forks police SWAT team made a call to a local Air Force base where they knew a Predator drone was deployed by the DHS. About three years before the Brossart incident, the police department had signed an agreement with DHS for the use of the drone. No sooner did the call come in than the drone was airborne and Brossart’s precise location was pinpointed with laser-guided accuracy. The machine-gun toting SWAT officer rushed in, tased then arrested Brossart on various charges including terrorizing a sheriff, and the rest is history. Literally.
As the matter proceeds through the legal system, Bruce Quick, the lawyer representing Brossart, is decrying the “guerilla-like police tactics” used to track and capture his client, as well as the alleged violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unwarranted searches and seizures. While the police admittedly possessed an apparently valid search warrant, Quick asserts that no such judicial go-ahead was sought or obtained for the use of the Predator to track the suspect. Therein lies the constitutional rub.
In an interview with the press, Quick claims that the police exceeded their authority in several instances, especially when they decided to go around the Fourth Amendment and illegally search Brossart’s farm. "The whole thing is full of constitutional violations," he said. Quick goes so far as to call the police’s use of the taser "tortuous" and something only slightly below "water-boarding..."