Robert L. Taylor, prosecutor of Cape May County, N.J., has announced the guilty plea of Russell Percenti for one count of criminal mischief – a crime of the fourth degree – for shooting down a remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) back on Sept. 26, 2014.
According to a release from the Cape May County office of the prosecutor, Percenti – a 34-year-old from Lower Township, N.J. – acknowledged that he used a shotgun to fire at the UAV in a residential neighborhood. He also acknowledged that he caused a monetary loss of over $500.00 to the owner of the drone.
Percenti is to be sentenced to probation on April 29. The prosecutor notes that fourth-degree crimes can carry a penalty of up to 18 months in New Jersey State Prison. (For comparison, on the other end of the spectrum, a first-degree crime can carry 10-20 years in jail, says the New Jersey Judiciary.)
According to Associated Press coverage, the UAV operator claimed to be taking pictures of a friend’s house, and Percenti was “trying to protect his family’s privacy.” Had he been convicted with the original charges of both criminal mischief and a weapons offense, the report notes, Percenti could have been dealt at least five years in jail.
Last month, a lawsuit regarding the rights of UAV operators versus property owners was filed in federal court. The suit stems from a similar 2015 incident in which a Kentucky man used a shotgun to take down a UAV he claimed was trespassing on his property. Although the shooter initially faced criminal charges, they were eventually dismissed by a state court judge.