Daniel Saulmon, Southern Californian’s notorious video activist, spent four days in a crowded county jail this week after refusing a plea deal that would have forbade him from flying his quadcopter for two years within Los Angeles County.
“It was terrible,” said the man known as Tom Zebra on Youtube of his experience in the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in Los Angeles in a telephone interview with Photography is Not a Crime hours after his release.
“I watched deputies nearly beat a guy to death with batons and tasers. I saw another man go into a seizure and almost die. It was not good.”
Saulmon’s ordeal stems from an incident last month in which he was flying his DJI Phantom over the Port of Los Angeles during an event called Navy Days, which was supposedly a photo-friendly day open to the public; encouraging residents to bring their cameras and step aboard the USS Anchorage.
He and a friend remained in a public parking lot flying the drone when they were approached by Los Angeles Port police officers, who confiscated the quadcopter under a little-known park regulation that applies to ports, 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 removed his memory card before handing over his drone, figuring he would eventually get it back.
He was wrong.
The prosecutor, whose name we are still trying to obtain, told him that under no circumstances would they be returning his drone.
He believes it is retaliation for having flown his quadcopter over the Hollywood Police Department as well as over a DUI checkpoint over the summer.
“When they took my drone, they kept questioning why I was flying my drone over the Hollywood station,” he said. “The video ended up on TMZ, but it’s not illegal to take pictures of a police station.”
The prosecutor asked that he be jailed for 30 days instead of released upon his own recognizance because he claimed Saulmon had a history of not showing up to court, even though Saulmon said he showed up to court dates on four previous occasions for this case, only to be told it had not been filed or it had been continued.
He was bailed out with $2,400 after his friends raised the money through the internet.
Another citizen, Carey Fujita, who has been flying quadcopters for a year, posting videos on his website called Rise of the Drones, also had his drone confiscated during the Navy Days events the day after Saulmon’s drone was confiscated.
Unlike Saulmon, who runs a website called Mistaken Bacon, where he makes a habit of recording cops in public, frequently getting arrested for it, Fujita enjoys flying his quadcopters over empty spaces and tries to avoid interacting with police.
He was offered the same deal as Saulmon, but accepted it, losing his drone and his right to fly drones in Los Angeles County for two years.
“Had I known there was a municipal code about flying drones near the port, I would not have done it,” Sualmon said in a telephone interview.
“I had been flying down there for a year and nobody ever said anything to me except one time when a port police officer asked me not to fly too close to the ships.”
He said he purposely chose the port because it enabled him to fly over areas where crowds do not converge; an attempt to comply with Federal Aviation Administration guidelines.
“Some parks have signs that say model aircrafts are not allowed,” he said. “But there are no signs at the port.”
Fujita, who attended his hearing three days after Saulmon was jailed, said the prosecutor bragged about having jailed Saulmon.
“He was kind of arrogant about it,” Fujita said. “He didn’t have to go there with that.”
The prosecutor also told him he would be handling all drone cases in the future, obviously in an attempt to ensure nobody flies them over the City of Angels.
However, it was only this week that the FAA gave clearance to commercial film crews, most which are concentrated in Los Angeles, to fly drones.
Check out the three videos for more information on his case.