The U.S. Secret Service is recommending to the U.S. Attorney in Washington that charges be brought against the operator of a small drone that crash landed at the White House last week. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office told CNN that a decision to charge has not been made yet.
A law enforcement official said Thursday the Secret Service believes the flyer of the DJI Phantom quadcopter, Shawn Usman, should be prosecuted on charges of violating national defense airspace. The official cautioned that violation typically applies to aircraft, and not small drones, an indication that the law has not kept up with technology.
Usman, an employee of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency has declined to discuss the case. An attorney representing Usman referred to him as “an accomplished scientist and dedicated public servant.”
“Many of the public reports of his actions with respect to this incident are inaccurate,” attorney Jim Garland said in a statement. “He has cooperated fully with the Secret Service’s investigation and looks forward to putting this unfortunate episode behind him.”
Usman borrowed the quadcopter from a friend, who says Usman only meant to fly the drone just outside of his apartment window. Instead, the drone inexplicably zoomed off away from Usman’s D.C. apartment and toward the White House blocks away, the friend said.
It is against the law to fly drones in Washington. Last week, DJI officials announced a mandatory firmware update to its customers that would prevent their quadcopters from flying in the nation’s capital.
Usman’s friend believes the drone malfunctioned and experienced a “flyaway,” pointing to similar incidents posted by quadcopter users online.
“I know that he’s very remorseful. He understands that he made a mistake. And he would like to extend his sincere apology to everyone involved, especially the president and his family,” said the drone operator’s friend, who spoke on condition of anonymity.