California Cops Confiscate Quadcopter from Activist at Photo Friendly Event (Updated) - PINAC News
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California Cops Confiscate Quadcopter from Activist at Photo Friendly Event (Updated)

Los Angeles Port police officers seized Daniel Saulmon’s DJI Phantom Wednesday as he was taking aerial video over the highly touted NAVY DAYS 2014 event where the public was encouraged to take photos.

The cops cited security reasons, failing to see the irony in countless citizens on board a vessel taking photos.

They also asked if he was the same man making the news for flying his quadcopter over LAPD checkpoints and police stations, a hint of the real reason they were confronting him.

And they threatened him with arrest if he did not hand the quadcopter over.

Navy DaysLocal press for Navy Days stating “Pictures are encouraged”

According to Saulmon, the officers said it was a new law and seized his quadcopter, citing Saulmon for violating ordinance LAMC 63.44 (b) (8), which states:

Within the limits of any park or other City-owned Harbor Department designated and controlled property within the City of Los Angeles: No person shall land, release, take off or fly any balloon, except children toy balloons not inflated with any flammable material, helicopter, parakite, hang glider, aircraft or powered models thereof, except in areas specifically set aside therefor.

Saulmon has yet to contact his attorney, but he can contest the citation and the validity of the law. However, he is not waiting for police to return his Phantom – he has already ordered a new one.

Mickey OsterreicherGeneral Counsel for the National Press Photographers Association , said “This is both troubling and not surprising as the law tries to catch up with technology,” and has a few questions about the new ordinance and it’s enforcement.

“I would be very interested to find out when this new regulation became effective and if the proper procedure was followed in promulgating it. As far as the police acting in a retaliatory manner – that is quite possible and improper – as we have seen in the recent First Circuit opinion in Gericke v Weare. Also the enforcement of these types of rules must not only be a reasonable time, place and manner restriction in order to pass constitutional (First Amendment) muster but must also be content neutral. So police should not just be targeting Mr. Saulmon because they don’t like the kind of images he records (i.e. their parking lot).”

While plenty of people were taking pictures of the USS Anchorage at the NAVY DAYS event – which encouraged photography – police drove up to Saulmon because he was flying his quadcopter over the harbor and ordered him to land the quadcopter. The officers asked Saulmon if he was the man they had seen on the news, and asked why he flew over  Hollywood LAPD Station.

Saulmon thinks the officers’ decision to write him a citation over an admittedly “new law” was retaliation, and said his “mail has been bombarded with comments that he’s an asshole for filming the police.” Ironically, the alleged invasion of privacy in Saulmon’s last video was not only of a publicly owned parking lot, but of a parking lot that was clearly visible from the sidewalk – the fence was see-through. 

Thankfully, Saulmon was able to pop out the memory card from his Phantom before handing it to police, enabling him to upload video of the NAVY DAYS incident.  Until his new Phantom arrives, Saulmon plans to continue filming police from ground.

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For news tips on aerial photography and drones, contact Andrew Meyer, PINAC’s staff writer covering UAV photography, the First Amendment, and more. Follow him on twitter @theandrewmeyer

UPDATE: Here is the footage from Saulmon’s cameras, including the quadcopter and the Sony camera he had on him.

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