Florida man faces 10 years in jail for shooting down half-a-million rand drone

A 52-year-old man from Florida in the US could be sentenced to 10 years in prison after shooting down a police drone worth $29,000 (R561,370), Associated Press reports.

Mount Dora resident Wendell Goney downed the drone used by Lake County police while responding to a burglary at an industrial property in July 2021.

Goney shot the drone using a .22-calibre rifle, alleging it was “harassing” him. It crashed into the roof of a building and caught fire.

Goney pleaded guilty to possessing a firearm as a convicted felon when appearing in the Ocala federal court on Thursday — a criminal charge under US federal law. His sentencing has been scheduled for 18 January 2024.

He had previously been convicted of 29 felonies, including illegal drug possession, burglary, aggravated assault against a police officer, violent resisting of arrest, and illegal possession of a firearm.

Goney’s actions come after a much-publicised incident in which Kentucky man William Merideth earned himself the nickname “Drone Slayer” after shooting down a drone over his property, which he believed was spying on his sunbathing daughter.

In that instance, Merideth won a civil court battle against drone owner David Boggs, who had sought $1,500 (R28,988) in compensation for his damaged property.

South Africa was among the first countries to get comprehensive drone laws. Our legislation was first implemented in July 2015.

The regulations make it illegal to fly a drone nearer than 50 metres from people, buildings, or roads without permission.

However, using a firearm to shoot down a drone contravening these restrictions is prohibited in South Africa.

The Firearms Control Act makes discharging a firearm in any built-up place or public area a criminal offence, except in self-defence use, where life or property is truly endangered.

The proper course of action is to either launch a civil court claim against the drone pilot or file a complaint with the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA) for breaching the Aviation Act or its regulations.

While the former can be too expensive to make worthwhile, the latter can be very effective, as SACAA has grown a reputation for strictly enforcing drone regulations.

The authority has the power to dole out heavy sanctions for illegal drone use — including levying fines of up to R50,000 per incident.

In more serious cases, it could also institute legal proceedings seeking imprisonment of the offender for up to 10 years.

However, if the victim cannot verify the drone operator’s identity, there currently seem to be few legal options available to them.

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Florida man faces 10 years in jail for shooting down half-a-million rand drone