New Jersey man indicted on felony charges for drone shoot down

New Jersey man indicted on felony charges for drone shoot down

One of the last images from a quadcopter downed last year in New Jersey. (Photo: Motherboard)

A grand jury Tuesday handed down indictments on two felony charges, which could total over 10 years in prison, for a New Jersey man who destroyed a RC quadcopter near his home.

Last September police in Lower Township, New Jersey, arrested Russell J. Percenti, 33, after Leonard Helbig reported his radio controlled hobby drone was blown out of the sky. At the time of the flight, Helbig was using the aircraft to photograph his friend’s home construction, neighboring Percenti’s home, from heights of up to 100 feet.

That’s when Percenti allegedly fired about five times at the craft with a shotgun, destroying it in flight, as reported by the Smoking Gun.

Now the Cape May County Prosecutor’s Office has announced Percenti will face charges of criminal mischief in the second degree and possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose in the fourth degree, following the return of an indictment by the county grand jury. Both charges are felonies with significant jail time associated.

Cape May County Prosecutor Robert L. Taylor advised the mischief charge could carry up to 10 years in state prison while the gun charge could bring up to a further 18 months.

This comes in the latest installment in the nation’s struggle with how to balance use of the easily obtainable devices with personal privacy concerns.

Shortly after Helbig’s aircraft was damaged, he was interviewed by Motherboard, telling the online magazine his drone was a DJI Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter, which the site pointed out was the same popular type used in a number of high profile incidents including hitting buildings in downtown Manhattan and St. Louis.

In a case of life imitating art, Silencerco’s Johnny Dronehunter clips on YouTube, which aired before the New Jersey incident, depict a rough and ready defender of privacy downing a solid half-dozen Phantoms with the aid of a suppressed shotgun.

Now the news of Percenti’s indictment comes amid tongue-in-cheek ammunition loads optimized for counter-drone warfare as authorities increasingly move to further regulate the devices.

Less lethal means of taking out the growing crop of intrusive hobby devices have included firefighters with water and anglers with surf-casting rods in recent weeks.

Meanwhile a Kentucky man was arrested earlier this month after he shot down Phantom P3 he contends was hovering over his sunbathing daughters. The shooter in that encounter was charged with wanton endangerment and criminal mischief.

A hearing date has not been set and Percenti is currently free on bond.