Attorney may challenge use of Predator drone during NoDak arrest

NoDak law enforcement used an unarmed drone to make an arrest last summer.
NoDak law enforcement used an unarmed drone to make an arrest last summer.

Last summer, American law enforcement used an unmanned drone to apprehend a group of alleged bad guys.

This didn't happen in Afghanistan or Iraq -- it happened in North Dakota and represents the first time U.S. law enforcement has used a drone to make an arrest.

Now, Fargo-based Bruce Quick, the attorney representing the arrestees, says he is contemplating challenging the legality of using unmanned drones for domestic law enforcement purposes.

Lakota, North Dakota resident Rodney Brossart and four of his family members were arrested after six head of cattle wandered from a neighbor's place onto his property. Brossart refused to give the cattle back to his neighbor, who then called police. But when the sheriff arrived at the Brossarts' residence to inquire about the cattle, three men brandishing rifles allegedly chased him off.

Fearful of an armed standoff, Nelson County Sheriff Kelly Janke ended up calling in a Predator B drone from the Grand Forks Air Force Base. The drone flew over the Brossart property, revealing that Rodney and his children were unarmed. Police then rushed onto the property and arrested Brossart, his wife, and three of their sons in connection with the alleged cattle theft and the police-resisting rifle brandishing.

While breaking the story last December, the Los Angeles Times characterized the incident as "the first known arrests of U.S. citizens with help from a Predator, the spy drone that has helped revolutionize modern warfare." According to that same report, North Dakota police say they have used unarmed Predators based in Grand Forks for two dozen surveillance flights between June 2011 and last December.

Until now, there has been next to no political or legal debate about whether it's actually a good idea to use drones for domestic law enforcement purposes. Air Force officials justify their actions by citing congressional budget requests that include "interior law enforcement support" as part of their mission.

In response to the L.A. Times report, Salon's Glenn Greenwald argued that the use of drones to arrest U.S. citizens at home is an ominous development enabling "a Surveillance State unlike anything we've ever seen." He wrote:

No matter one's views, the escalating addition of drones -- weaponized or even just surveillance -- to the vast arsenal of domestic weapons that already exist is a serious, consequential development. The fact that it has happened with almost no debate and no real legal authorization is itself highly significant. One thing is for certain: this is a development that is going to continue and increase rapidly. It needs far more attention than it has thus far received.

Now, thanks to Quick, the attorney representing the Brossarts, a court may finally have the opportunity to weigh in on the legality of domestic drone use. Quick told the Grand Forks Herald he's considering filing a motion challenging the use of a drone during the arrest.

"It's bizarre to me they would be using military drones for that purpose," Quick said. "I don't think those things are intended to be used for that."

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