SIMI VALLEY, CA – A suspect was caught allegedly using a drone as a means to deliver heroin to prospective buyers in Simi Valley, California back in late March.
Even though the suspect’s ingenuity to further their alleged criminal conduct was foiled by investigators, one must admit that it was at least a somewhat novel approach to street-level narcotics dealing.
Police believe 51-year-old Simi man was operating a drone, which they say had heroin attached to it. pic.twitter.com/RsWEf6Ih0c
— Sylvie B (@Sylviebelmond) March 20, 2021
With companies like Amazon Prime offering air drone delivery services, it was only a matter of time before illicit entities got in on the air delivery service game.
According to a press release from the Simi Valley Police Department that was shared by the department on March 20th, officers assigned with the Homeless Liaison division as well as narcotics detectives were conducting an investigation on 51-year-old John Piani.
Piani was located within the 900 block of enchanted way when officers moved in to make the arrest. But when officers went to take Piani into custody, they noticed that he was operating a drone.
Officers reportedly tracked down the drone that the suspect was allegedly operating and found that there was heroin attached to it. In the press release from the SVPD they did note that “further investigation will be conducted in order to confirm the involvement of the drone.”
The suspect was reportedly booked into the Ventura County Jail under charges of possession of a controlled substance and two counts of possessing a controlled substance with intent to sell. Piani’s bail has been reportedly set at $125,000.
— Andrew Gunther (@followyouv) March 21, 2021
An image of the drone that police seized during the arrest does showcase what appears to be some sort of plastic baggie affixed to the body of the drone.
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Back in November of 2020, Law Enforcement Today reported on another incident involving drones – where a man was arrested for allegedly flying his drone right into a police helicopter.
Here’s that previous report from November of 2020.
LOS ANGELES, CA – Federal authorities have arrested a man after he allegedly flew a drone which collided with a Los Angeles Police Department helicopter in September of this year.
— FAA Drone Zone (@FAADroneZone) November 19, 2020
The FBI alleges that Andrew Rene Hernandez was recklessly operating a drone on September 18th when it collided with the police helicopter, striking the fuselage. The strike caused the LAPD pilot to make an emergency landing to avoid crashing.
After the strike, the drone spiraled out of control and dropped out of the sky. When the drone crashed, it did so into a vehicle.
FBI Agents arrested Hernandez on November 19th and federally charged him with unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft. The investigation was conducted by members of the FBI, the Los Angeles Police Department, and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The incident happened as the Los Angeles Police Department helicopter was responded to an early morning burglary of a pharmacy in Hollywood. While responding, the pilot of the helicopter saw the drone approaching and attempted to avoid a collision.
Despite the helicopter pilot’s evasive maneuvers, the drone struck the helicopter. The drone hit and damaged the nose of the aircraft, antenna and bottom cowlings which could have caused the helicopter to crash. This strike caused the pilot to do an emergency landing to avoid crashing.
— Drone U (@theDroneU) November 19, 2020
Federal prosecutors with the US Attorney’s Office said:
“If the drone had struck the helicopter’s main rotor instead of the fuselage, it could have brought the helicopter down.”
After the helicopter had landed, members from the Los Angeles Police Department located pieces of the crashed drone near the burglary scene. Officers also located a vehicle which was damaged when the drone crashed into it.
Police reviewed the video card and camera on the drone and discovered that it belonged to Hernandez. Based on this information, federal authorities were able to author a search warrant for Hernandez’s residence which was executed in October of this year.
— Mitch Jackson, Esq. (@mitchjackson) November 20, 2020
While at the search warrant, FBI agents interviewed Hernandez regarding the incident. According to them, Hernandez admitted that he was the person who was flying the drone when it impacted the helicopter.
Hernandez claimed that he was only curious as to what the police helicopter was doing. He said he launched the drone “to see what was going on” according to the FBI. Hernandez said that he saw the drone “smack” the police helicopter and saw it crash by a nearby residence.
A spokesman from the US Attorney’s Office, Thom Mrozek, said:
“This case resulted from a serious incident that could have ended very badly as a result of the reckless actions of the drone operator.”
The FAA released a tweet after Hernandez’s arrest to remind drone operators that safety is a priority. They said:
“Safely integrating drones into the national airspace system is one of the FAA’s top priorities.
It’s critical for all drone operators to understand that as soon as they start flying outside, they are pilots with the responsibility to operate safely, just like pilots of manned aircraft.
“The FAA has a comprehensive effort to educate drone operators about the importance of flying safely, including education partnerships with drone organizations, the drone industry, airports, pilot groups and other stakeholders.
While our preference is to educate, we don’t hesitate to take strong enforcement action when warranted.
The FBI arrested a #dronepilot from Hollywood on a federal charge alleging that he recklessly operated an unmanned aircraft system (#UAS) that crashed into and damaged a helicopter from the Los Angeles Police Department. #drone #drones https://t.co/DqhyqxYSbA
— DroneXL (@DroneXL1) November 19, 2020
“Individuals who operate drones unsafely can face fines from the FAA of up to $1,501 per violation.”
The FAA included a link to the press release from the US Attorney’s Office announcing Hernandez’s arrest. The press release said:
“The case against Hernandez is believed to be the first criminal case in the nation alleging the unsafe operation of an unmanned aircraft.
Today’s arrest comes during National Drone Safety Awareness Week, which is sponsored by the Federal Aviation Administration and seeks to promote drone safety.”
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