Drone owner files federal lawsuit after neighbor downs aircraft with a shotgun
A Drone owner whose aircraft was shot down by his neighbour had filed a federal lawsuit. John David Boggs, the owner of the drone has filed a lawsuit against William Meredith for shooting down his $1800 drone.
Boggs has demanded that Merideth pay for the cost of the drone and he also wants the United States to clarify federal law related to the operation of drones. The case assumes importance because it specifically asks the federal government to rule on emerging issues related to how a “drone” is defined, as well the relationship between drones, airspace boundaries, privacy rights, and the laws against trespass.
Readers will remember Boggs from the old report we had filed in October 2015. A judge had ruled that Merideth was right in shooting down the drone at that time. Merideth has allegedly shot down the $1800 drone because it was spying on his family. The Bullit County District Court judge determined that Merideth was within his rights when he pulled out a shotgun and shot down a drone that was allegedly spying on his family.
The court went on to dismiss all charges against Meredith. Merideth said the operator was violating his privacy and spying on his family.
Now Boggs, has filed a lawsuit on Jan. 4 against William Merideth, the man who shot it down. Both men are Bullitt County residents.
The incident in question took place on Sunday, July 26, at a home on Earlywood Way, just south of the intersection in Bullitt County. Hillview Police say they were called to Merideth’s home after someone complained about a firearm. When they arrived, police say Merideth told them he had shot down a drone that was flying over his house. The drone was hit in mid-air and crashed in a field near Merideth’s home.
Police said Boggs, the owner of the drone, claimed he was flying it to get pictures of a friend’s house — and that the cost of the drone was over $1,800.
At that time, the police had charged Merideth with first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment. As stated in our earlier report, both charges were dismissed by the judge in October 2015.
“Well, I came out and it was down by the neighbor’s house, about 10 feet off the ground, looking under their canopy that they’ve got in their back yard,” Merideth told WDRB News, the day after the incident. “I went and got my shotgun and I said, ‘I’m not going to do anything unless it’s directly over my property.’”
That moment soon arrived, he said.
“Within a minute or so, here it came,” he said. “It was hovering over top of my property, and I shot it out of the sky.”
“He didn’t just fly over,” he said. “If he had been moving and just kept moving, that would have been one thing — but when he come directly over our heads, and just hovered there, I felt like I had the right.”
“You know, when you’re in your own property, within a six-foot privacy fence, you have the expectation of privacy,” he said. “We don’t know if he was looking at the girls. We don’t know if he was looking for something to steal. To me, it was the same as trespassing.”
Meanwhile Bogg has denied that his drone wasnt spying. Boggs categorically denied Meridith’s allegation that his drone was flying “10 feet off the ground.”
“The bottom line is we didn’t do it,” Boggs said in an interview with WDRB later that week. “We didn’t hover, we didn’t go down, we didn’t do any of that. There’s no way I’m going to fly below the trees the second day I owned it.”
Boggs says he bought the drone just a few days before it was shot down. He said he was planning on using it to shoot video of his kids riding motocross. He says Sunday was a practice session.
“There’s no other explanation other than the truth,” Boggs said.
Video that Boggs claims shows the flight path an altitude of the drone does not corroborate Merideth’s claim that the drone descended to an altitude of just 10 feet from the ground.
“We are now 193 feet above the ground,” Boggs described as he showed us the flight path. “This area here is the world-famous drone slayer home, and this is a neighbor’s home, and our friends live over here, and over here, and over here. You will see now that we did not go below this altitude — we even went higher — nor did we hover over their house to look in. And for sure didn’t descend down to no 10 feet, or look under someone’s canopy, or at somebody’s daughter.”
In support of Boggs, the track shows that the drone hovered for around 30 seconds near Merideth’s home but was at an altitude in excess of 200 feet.
The lawsuit filed Monday pits Boggs’ claim to airspace rights against Merideth’s claim to privacy rights — and asks the federal government to settle the matter.
“This turn of events has set the stage for a conflict between state-based claims of trespass of property, invasion of privacy, and trespass to chattles and longstanding exclusive federal jurisdiction over the national airspace and the protection of air safety,” the lawsuit says. “The tension between private property rights and right to traverse safely the national airspace was resolved during the formative days of manned aviation. The issue is now arising in the context of unmanned aircraft, also known as ‘drones.'”
Specifically, the suit requests that the court issue a declaratory judgment recognizing the drone as an “aircraft,” defined by federal law, and finding that any unmanned aircraft operating in what the law calls “navigable airspace” does not violate a homeowner’s “reasonable expectation of privacy” and thus cannot be shot down.
The suit goes on to criticize Merideth, arguing that he “vows to do it again,” based on a cover photo that appears on Merideth’s Facebook page. The cover photo reads, in capital letters, “NOT ONLY DID I DO IT. BUT I MEANT TO DO IT. AND I’D DO IT AGAIN.” The profile picture on the Facebook page also bears the caption “THE DRONE SLAYER.”
Additionally, the lawsuit includes images of t-shirts the suit alleges were sold by Merideth. The t-shirt bears the words “Team Willie” on the front. The back contains the likeness of a drone in crosshairs with the words, “#DRONESLAYER” and “We the People… have had enough!” The lawsuit alleges that, through these actions, Meredith “implicitly encouraged others to engage in the same conduct.”
Boggs also wants Meredith to pay “such equitable relief as it deems appropriate, including monetary damages, prejudgment interest, and the cost of filing this action.”