An Ontario man was issued 13 citations on Thursday afternoon for using his drone in a harassing manner over residential areas throughout the Ontario area from about June to mid-August.
The citations are “not technically a crime,” according to Malheur County Undersheriff Travis Johnson, and are considered a Class B violation, similar to a traffic ticket he explained. However, if Leonard Ryals is convicted for even one of them, repeat offenses could lead to a Class A violation and eventually a Class B misdemeanor, according to state law.
The citations were issued under ORS 837.370, which pertains to operating a drone over privately owned premises in a manner that “intentionally, knowingly or recklessly harass or annoy the owner or occupant” of those premises.
While they are Class B violations, the story is noteworthy, as it’s the first time known of locally of an issue like this.
“We’ve had a call or two periodically, but never repeated and prolonged drone harassment,” Johnson said. “And there were a handful of places that he liked to go back to, more than others.”
The actions taken by Ryals, were “creeping out a lot of people,” Johnson said.
One spot he frequented included the home of an Ontario Police officer outside city limits, who on Aug. 20 reported to a Malheur County Sheriff’s deputy that he had seen the drone “stationary in the air about 25 yards off the ground over his yard,” about four times, according to press logs from the sheriff’s office. In that report, it said that the last two times it was spotted was on July 24. However, on July 14, his wife had seen it “stationed out of a window in a room she normally dresses in.”
There were more people who felt harassed or annoyed at times, the undersheriff said, but it wasn’t as repeated or they didn’t want to sign citations.
Additionally, it was “a waste of taxpayer dollars,” Johnson said of trying to track a drone that could be gone within a manner of seconds of a report coming in.
“It took us a lot of manpower to figure this out,” he said.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration was contacted, they did not get involved “to speak of,” Johnson said.
Ryals will have an opportunity to share his side of the story at Malheur County Justice Court on Oct. 7, the undersheriff said.
What can you do?
Oregon’s drone law was passed by the Legislature in 2017.
According to Malheur County District Attorney David Goldthorpe, if a person felt harassed or threatened by something that they couldn’t actually give chase to, in addition to reporting it to law enforcement officials, they could possibly try to stop it on their own.
“If it’s over your private property illegally, I can’t see a crime where they can’t do something to take it down,” he said.
However, as the drone was being used outside and inside city limits, he said a person in town would have to “get sophisticated” about bringing it down.
For example, a person in city limits couldn’t use a gun to bring it down, including any air gun or spring propelled weapons, such as a BB or pellet gun, Goldthorpe said.