A 23-year-old Westbrook, CT woman is facing charges of third-degree assault and breach of peace after police say she attacked a boy for flying a drone at Hammonasset Beach State Park.
Andrea Mears was charged on May 12 by the Connecticut State Environmental Police. She was released on the promise to appear before a judge in New Haven Superior Court on June 19.
According to police reports, Mears called the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s emergency phone line on May 12 to report that someone was operating an unmanned drone equipped with a video camera over Hammonasset Beach State Park. 17-year-old Austin Haughwout of Clinton, CT soon after called the Madison Police Department to report that he was being attacked by a woman on the beach.
Officials say Haughwout was operating an unmanned drone over the beach when Mears began clawing and pulling at the back of his neck while shouting a verbal tirade of profanity. Haughwout turned on his cellphone’s video camera to capture the incident as it unfolded (the video has since been posted to YouTube and LiveLeak). This video allowed authorities to determine who was at fault, and ultimately they deemed Mears was the the instigator; thus, the charged her one count of assault in the third-degree and another count of breach peace.
Haughwout was reportedly operating a radio-controlled quadcopter-style drone over the beach. Due to its high-altitude, however, the faces and physical features of beach-goers were not visible.
“Though [Haughwout] may have hit Mears at some point in the incident, it appeared to be while he was defending himself and attempting to get away from the attack. Haughwout said he was glad he recorded the confrontation on his phone. “If I didn’t I think I would have been arrested,” wrote EnCon Officer Robert Monday in a police report.
Haughwout was not charged for operating an unmanned drone over the beach. But news of this recent incident leave many people asking the question: is it legal to operate unmanned drones over public areas such as beaches? This is still somewhat of a gray area that needs clarifying, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states that it’s currently illegal to operate drones in FAA-controlled airspace without proper permission, and drone operators must keep their unmanned aerial vehicles within visual range at all times, regardless of the technological capabilities it possesses.