This is part two of a nine part series will illuminating the FAA’s complacency and the role the FAA’s concession played in the violence against Water Protectors. A listing of the other eight articles is at the bottom of this article.
Early in the morning hundreds of Water Protectors left Oceti Sakowin Camp and marched north, uphill along the eastern edge of Highway 1806, ending up at what would become Sacred Ground camp on October 23, 2016. They crossed the street and the march leaders stopped in the ditch on the west side of the road.
Elders, drummers, and singers prayed for over a half an hour. Swirling overhead police and DAPL helicopters chopped through the air.
On September 3, 2016 DAPL security guards set dogs on Water Protectors attempting to stop bulldozers ripping apart land considered sacred burial grounds to the Standing Rock Sioux and surrounding Lakota, Dakota, and Nakota populations. The land was to the west of 1806. Land just behind a fence from where the elders were now praying.
As the Water Protectors on Highway 1806 experienced the prayer, journalists turned their attention further west, past the scars on the ground where the bulldozers scratched the ancestors, to the crest of the hill.
Police and DAPL workers observed the prayers from the ridge of a hill, their vehicles lined one next to each other.
Pilots hurriedly hummed their drones along the ridge where the police were staged. Just the day before 83 people were arrested at a similar prayer action where police used pepper spray, batons, and batons.
Journalist Dean Dedman sent his drone up to survey police and pipeline activity.
When the drone flew over the constabulary, the police took shots at his drone, damaging its landing gears and GPS.
“They shot at my first amendment right. They shot at a journalist’s equipment,” said Dedman.
Even after being shot several times, the drone survived and was able to return. Footage was taken off and it revealed three separate shootings at the drone by police.
In one shooting, the drone captured the law enforcement officer getting his gun, running with the gun across the scared sacred ground, taking aim, and firing at the drone. The bullet is visible across the bottom right of the shot.
Morton County Sheriff issued a statement the next day stating that people in the helicopters feared for their lives when the drone came close to it in the air. An unnamed sheriff in the helicopter claimed, “drone came after us.”
Neither the Morton County Sheriff’s Office, nor Dedman contend the drone in question was flying above its FAA regulation airspace.
In order for the helicopter to be threatened by the drone, the helicopter would have had to be flying well below its lawful aviation.
Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Section 91.119 of the General Operating and Flight Rules requires the helicopter to fly at least 500 feet above non-congested areas and 2,000 feet above congested areas. Drones are generally required to stay below 400 feet.
The footage shows the police shooting toward at the east at the drone from the ridge on the west side of the road. Water Protectors in prayer were beyond the hill to the east. In order to shoot at the drone, the officers fired in the direction of the Water Protectors – over their heads or in an arch which could have potentially hit them or caused the drone to crash on the crowd.
It is illegal to shoot down any aircraft in the United States and the FAA has confirmed that drones are afforded the same legal protection as an airplane or a helicopter.
The FAA stated, “regardless of the situation, shooting at any aircraft — including unmanned aircraft [drones] — poses a significant safety hazard. An unmanned aircraft hit by gunfire could crash, causing damage to persons or property on the ground, or it could collide with other objects in the air.”
In this case, the police said the drone was flying near a helicopter. Their shots were over the heads of human beings, into the air where there was at least one nearby helicopter and the drone could have landed in the helicopter’s blades or on the people.
Dedman filed a complaint with the FAA against the police who shot at his drone, a complaint the FAA says it is still investigating. Dedman says he has been informed of no progress.
This week another drone was shot down, this one belonging to media group Digital Smoke Signals.
LaRae Meadows is a freelance writer, who has been embedded at Standing Rock.