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First American arrested with help from drone is sentenced

A North Dakota farmer who was the first US citizen to be arrested in a situation where law enforcement had help from a drone has also become the first to be convicted and sentenced,  thanks in part to an unmanned aerial vehicle.

Rodney Brossart, a cattle rancher, was sentenced to three years  in prison, although two and a half years of that sentence were  suspended, for terrorizing police officers in 2011. Six cows  wandered onto Brossart’s property near Grand Forks, North Dakota  and, when he refused to return the cattle to his neighbor, a SWAT  team was called in to disband the police standoff.

When the situation was still unresolved 16 hours later the SWAT  team called in a Predator drone that was on loan from the  Department of Homeland Security. The drone quickly identified  Brossart’s location, as well as that of his three sons on the  3,600 acre property, and notified police when it was safe to make  an arrest.

Rodney BrossartRodney Brossart


Five family members were taken into custody and Brossart has  claimed he was tased during the incident. He was found not guilty  of stealing the cows but was sentenced Tuesday because of the  armed standoff, in part because officials played surveillance  video taken from the drone in court.

The case garnered national attention because it was believed to  be the first in which a drone was used as such an essential part  of the investigation and aftermath.

We put a tactical operational plan together this afternoon  and we implemented it and everything went as planned for us, so  we’re very pleased that we did end with a peaceful resolution  this evening,” Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke told  WDAZ-TV at the time.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, a civil liberties group, has  obtained records which reveal that Customs and Border Patrol  Predator drones flew 700 missions over the US in the years  between 2010 and 2012 on behalf of the FBI, Immigration and  Customs Enforcement, and various local police departments.

Bruce Quick, Brossart’s attorney, told US News and World Report  that the use of the drone was illegal because it was   “dispatched without judicial approval or a warrant” and  that tasing Brossart equated to “guerilla-like police tactics.”

US District Judge Joel Medd has defended the use of drones in the  case, saying in 2012 that “there was no improper use of an  unmanned aerial vehicle” and that the drone “appears to  have had no bearing on these charges being contested here.”

Judge Medd was more blunt at sentencing this month, unloading on  Brossart in court for his actions.

This case should have never happened,” he said.   “Chalk it up to stubbornness, to stupidity, to being at odds  with your neighbors or any combination of those. We should never  have been here if the cows would have just been returned.”


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