Flying a drone in a national park is illegal, and it is particularly bad form to fly them over crowds gathered in these parks. Travis R. Sanders did just this at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in April 2015. He flew his drone over a crowd that had gathered to view the crater of Halema’uma’a.
A federal park ranger identified himself as an LEO and ordered Sanders to bring down his drone. Sanders initially refused, but eventually complied. Sanders made his situation even worse by refusing to identify himself and then trying to flee the scene when the officer attempted to arrest him. The ranger was able to subdue the man by using his taser.
Sanders’ trial took place in February 2016 in United States District Court in Hilo. US Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi presided over this two-day bench trial. Sanders was not convicted on two counts relating to the incident, because he eventually landed the drone and did identify himself in the end.
However, Magistrate Judge Puglisi found that Sanders willfully disobeyed the order to stop and found this order to have been lawful. The reprobate was convicted of disobeying a lawful order from the ranger—a government employee. This action constituted a Class B misdemeanor.
The judge ordered Sanders to pay a $1000 fine and banned him from Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for a year. Magistrate Judge Puglisi also found the ranger’s use of the taser to be “entirely justified” given the situation.
Given the popularity of drones, it remains to be seen whether or not this case will act as a deterrent to using a drone in a national park. At the least, the owners of drones are more likely to think twice before filming over a crowd in one of our national treasures.