Judge rules man had right to shoot down drone over his house

Technically Incorrect: A Kentucky judge dismisses all charges against William Merideth, saying the drone was an invasion of privacy.

Chris Matyszczyk
2 min read

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


William Merideth shot down a drone legally, a judge decides.

WDRB/TV screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

It was a case that gripped the nation. Or at least Kentucky.

Should it have temporarily escaped your pressured memory, William Merideth in July said he saw a drone flying above his property in Hillview, Kentucky.

He believed it was spying on his 16-year-old daughter who was sunbathing in the garden. So he took out his shotgun and blasted the drone out of the sky. He was arrested for wanton endangerment and criminal mischief.

Now a Kentucky court has declared Merideth an innocent man. Bullitt County District Court Judge Rebecca Ward on Monday dismissed all charges against Merideth, reported local TV station WDRB-TV.

The drone's owner, David Boggs, had produced flight data that insisted his machine had been flying higher than Merideth had claimed.

The judge, however, seems not a fan of big data. She's a woman of the people. She declared that two human witnesses saw the drone below the tree line. This evidence was, to her, conclusive. To her, this was an invasion of Merideth's privacy.

Amateur drones hovering willy-nilly have disturbed more than just private citizens. Airline pilots' reports of drone close-calls on takeoff and landing have increased exponentially over the past year.

This summer, amateur drones flew over California wildfires, purely to capture dramatic pictures. This grounded helicopters which were desperately trying to drop water on the flames. There's still a $75,000 reward for anyone who leads authorities to those responsible.

The FAA's recommendations include not flying above 400 feet. "Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft -- you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft," the agency adds.

For his part, Merideth believes his case should never have gone to court.

"I don't encourage people to just go out and start blasting stuff for no reason," he told WDRB. "But three times in one day, three times over the course of a year, six times total, over one property? That's not right, that's harassment."

Boggs is reportedly considering his legal options.

Once Amazon and other retailers begin their deliveries by drone, there will surely be an almost permanent buzzing in the sky. How will people know whether the thing that's overhead is spying on them or merely delivering fresh underwear or zucchini to the nice people next door.

Every time technology thinks it's solving a problem, or at least creating new forms of entertainment, it brings with it new annoyances and potential for conflict.

This isn't necessarily a good thing in a nation where so many people own guns.