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US: Probation and fine for "bored" man who aimed laser pointer at helicopter during Milwaukee protests
The laser strikes occurred seven times between May 31 and June 7 2021 in the summer of 2020 during protests in Milwaukee. An FBI surveillance airplane and a Wisconsin National Guard helicopter were targeted. The FBI crew began wearing anti-laser goggles to protect against bright laser light. A camera on board their aircraft was used to determine the laser's location. Ground officers then went in and arrested 39-year-old Jeremiah Belen, a resident of Milwaukee.
Belen apologized to the judge during his sentencing. He said he had the laser for astronomy pointing with his two children. He aimed at the aircraft because he was bored after being laid off during the COVID pandemic.
Prosecutors said they wanted the felony conviction to "send a message" that aiming at aircraft, especially during civil unrest, is dangerous.
Belen could have received up to five years in prison for his action, but was given probation due to no previous criminal history and having found a job since his arrest.
From 715 Newsroom, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via MSN
A Louisville man was sentenced last week to 2 years of probation, including 8 months of home incarceration, for aiming a laser pointer at a Louisville Metro Police helicopter.
According to court documents, Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr., 26, of Louisville, aimed the beam of a laser pointer at an LMPD helicopter on September 25, 2020, during protests in the city. Lasers can blind pilots and cause the aircraft to crash, and aiming a laser at an aircraft is a federal felony offense.
In addition to 2 years of probation and 8 months of home incarceration, United States District Court Judge David Hale ordered Salazar-Leija, Jr., to pay a $2,500 fine and the costs of his home incarceration.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation investigated the case, and Assistant U.S. Attorney David Weiser prosecuted the case.
Additional details come from news reports:
The helicopter was doing surveillance after a burglary when it was illuminated by the laser beam. The pilots were temporarily blinded. Salazar-Leija admitted intentionally aiming the laser at the aircraft.
In 2020, there were 181 pilot reports of laser illuminations in Kentucky, 73 of which occurred in Louisville.
Manuel Martin Salazar-Leija, Jr.
The protesters were from the group Detroit Will Breathe, self-described as "an integrated, youth-led, militant organization fighting against police brutality and systemic racism in Detroit." During a march, at about 12:30 am, the helicopter was illuminated intermittently for about seven seconds by a laser. The pilot later told investigators that "the green laser beam resulted in temporary momentary blindness causing the incapacitation of the flight crew."
Video from the helicopter, a city bus, and local buildings led investigators to Michael Sam Hurd of Fennville, Michigan. In November 2020 federal agents raided Hurd's home. He admitted having a laser pointer.
On May 14 2021 he was charged with a federal felony with a maximum five years of prison time, and was released on $10,000 bail.
After the hearing, Hurd's lawyer said "This happened in the context of a Black Lives Matter demonstration going on, so it is not like it took place at an airport or anything…. This was during the protest march when there was excessive brutality done by the police force. Whatever actions on the part of my client — we are still trying to get to the bottom of it — I’m sure were done in defense of others.”
From the Detroit News and Fox 2 Detroit. The Detroit News article has many helicopter and surveillance photos of the incident.
On June 4 2020, a green laser beam was aimed at the aircraft, which was monitoring civil unrest at the [Robert E.] Lee Monument, a 21-foot tall statue of the Confederate general sitting on a 40-foot pedestal. The air crew directed officers on the ground. They found and arrested 33-year-old Amanda Robinson.
In November 2020 she pleaded guilty. Under federal sentencing guidelines, the mother of 4, who had no previous criminal record, could have been jailed for up to 6 months. Both her lawyer and the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Virginia asked for no jail time, because Robinson did not know that shining a laser at aircraft was hazardous, and because she cooperated with prosecutors.
From the Richmond Times-Dispatch
Woman Pleads Guilty to Aiming Laser Pointer at Police Aircraft
RICHMOND, Va. – A Henrico woman pleaded guilty today to aiming a laser pointer at a police aircraft while at the Robert E. Lee Monument during a period of civil unrest.
According to court documents, on June 4, Amanda Robinson, 33, traveled to the Robert E. Lee Monument traffic circle located in Richmond. While at the traffic circle, Robinson pointed her laser pointer at a 2006 Cessna aircraft flying above her location operated by police officers of the Metropolitan Aviation Unit. The Metropolitan Aviation Unit officers were conducting aerial surveillance patrols during a period of civil unrest. In aiming the laser pointer, Robinson struck the aircraft on at least two separate occasions and disrupted the pilot’s vision. Using an onboard camera, the police officers identified Robinson as the individual aiming the laser pointer and directed police units to her location. Upon arriving to the Robert E. Lee Monument traffic circle, police patrol units detained Robinson and recovered a green laser pointer from her possession.
Click to read more...
The January 18 2021 incident resulted in declaring the gathering an "unlawful assembly" so police could legally disperse the crowd.
In a tweet, San Jose police said of the laser strike "This is not only a felony but extremely dangerous for our pilot and crew. This will not be tolerated."
From a San Francisco Chronicle article (paywall) excerpted at Patch.com
From NBC San Diego
It is not known if the pointers damaged the drone's camera, rendering it unflyable, or if the operator could still fly the drone but decided to land it.
A video posted by Perseus999 includes this commentary from him or her:
This is the moment a police drones is being forced to crash and land by protesters in Chile using simple pointer lasers to blind the drone.
These protesters didn't use any physical or gun force to bring the drone down. Instead, they used another form of technology: lasers. A lot of bright green laser beams were pointed in unison at the drone, which can be seen moving erratically, before quickly falling down to Earth.
A few theories about how the drone was brought down by the lasers are floating around many social media. Some believe the lasers are powerful enough to melt the plastic on the drone if it is a cheap drone. Some others believe the lasers' lights would blind the drone operator's vision through the camera, and the drone would go into autopilot mode and land as a failsafe. Others think that with that many lasers pointing at the drone, it would overheat and malfunction. Speculations that between 40 to 50 lasers were being pointed at the drone have circulated online, and the video certainly demonstrates that these estimates may be true. If that is the case, that's certainly enough lasers to blind the drone's camera lens.
Videos found from @Emily_Lykos | @Carabdechile
COMMENTARY FROM LASERPOINTERSAFETY.COM: The overheating theories are probably incorrect. Cameras are known to be sensitive to laser light — often much more sensitive than human eyes. So the camera sensor could be damaged, or even if not damaged, causing glare making it difficult or impossible to safely fly.
Via a YouTube search for "Drone with laser pointer"
During the disorder, young teens threw dozens of petrol bombs, paint bombs, bricks and bottles at police patrols, and burned a barricade. It was the third night of the incidents when the PSNI helicopter was targeted.
From ITV News, Derry Journal
Stephen Ruth said he was not home at the time, that no one aimed a laser beam from his property, and that police are targeting him. “I find it very suspicious the commissioner would accuse me when the same day I attempted to form an anti-corruption taskforce in the county.”
Police said they “have no doubt the laser came from that home” in the December 6 2017 incident. The helicopter had been looking for a missing teenager.
Ruth had previously mis-aimed red light cameras, and cut wiring in about 20-30 systems, to protest what he called an unsafe money grab by Suffolk County. He said only a jury could give him a fair hearing.
From CBS New York, laser story and earlier story on red light damage.
Seventy-four other police officers were injured; one was hospitalized with an eye injury after a firework exploded in his face.
From the Mirror and Reuters
UPDATED JULY 9 2017 - After intensive investigations, German police arrested a 27-year-old Hamburg man “on suspicion of attempted murder”. The unnamed man blinded the two pilots “so badly while they were up in the air that they had to stop working because they couldn’t see.”
The first incident occurred August 17 2016 at about 5:15 am. The light went into the pilot’s eye, leaving his vision “dangerously obstructed”, according to Cecily Fong, public information officer of the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services.
The second incident happened on August 21 2016 at about 12:45 am. The pilot looked away in time to avoid the laser light, according to the Morton County Sheriff’s department.
News reports are unclear, but it appears the same aircraft and same pilot were involved in both incidents.
The flights were being done by the North Dakota Highway Patrol to monitor approximately 3,000 persons — most Native American tribal members — who wanted to block construction of the pipeline until a court hearing could take place over its impact to sacred sites and culturally important landscapes.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation was called in to try and find the laser perpetrator(s).
Tara Houska, speaking on behalf of Honor the Earth, a non-profit organization supporting indigenous peoples’ environmental justice, said “Why launch a federal investigation into a laser pointer instead of asking what right the U.S. government has to fly surveillance planes over sovereign nations in the first place?”
From KELOland TV, Snopes, Forum News Service, Belleville News-Democrat and Intercontinental Cry magazine
Complete coverage, including more photos and videos, is in this LaserPointerSafety.com story in the “Statistics, laws, all other news” section.