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First American arrested with help from drone is sentenced

Published time: January 29, 2014 01:31
Edited time: January 30, 2014 19:03
Maintenence personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border. (AFP Photo / John Moore)

Maintenence personel check a Predator drone operated by U.S. Office of Air and Marine (OAM), before its surveillance flight near the Mexican border. (AFP Photo / John Moore)

A North Dakota farmer who was the first US citizen to be arrested in a situation where law enforcement had help from a drone has also become the first to be convicted and sentenced, thanks in part to an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Rodney Brossart, a cattle rancher, was sentenced to three years in prison, although two and a half years of that sentence were suspended, for terrorizing police officers in 2011. Six cows wandered onto Brossart’s property near Grand Forks, North Dakota and, when he refused to return the cattle to his neighbor, a SWAT team was called in to disband the police standoff.

When the situation was still unresolved 16 hours later the SWAT team called in a Predator drone that was on loan from the Department of Homeland Security. The drone quickly identified Brossart’s location, as well as that of his three sons on the 3,600 acre property, and notified police when it was safe to make an arrest.

Rodney Brossart

Five family members were taken into custody and Brossart has claimed he was tased during the incident. He was found not guilty of stealing the cows but was sentenced Tuesday because of the armed standoff, in part because officials played surveillance video taken from the drone in court.

The case garnered national attention because it was believed to be the first in which a drone was used as such an essential part of the investigation and aftermath.

We put a tactical operational plan together this afternoon and we implemented it and everything went as planned for us, so we’re very pleased that we did end with a peaceful resolution this evening,” Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke told WDAZ-TV at the time.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, has obtained records which reveal that Customs and Border Patrol Predator drones flew 700 missions over the US in the years between 2010 and 2012 on behalf of the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and various local police departments.

Bruce Quick, Brossart’s attorney, told US News and World Report that the use of the drone was illegal because it was “dispatched without judicial approval or a warrant” and that tasing Brossart equated to “guerilla-like police tactics.”

US District Judge Joel Medd has defended the use of drones in the case, saying in 2012 that “there was no improper use of an unmanned aerial vehicle” and that the drone “appears to have had no bearing on these charges being contested here.”

Judge Medd was more blunt at sentencing this month, unloading on Brossart in court for his actions.

This case should have never happened,” he said. “Chalk it up to stubbornness, to stupidity, to being at odds with your neighbors or any combination of those. We should never have been here if the cows would have just been returned.”

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