Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.
Sunday, December 4, 2016

By Hilda Munoz, The Hartford Courant

HARTFORD, Conn. — A local television news photographer whose use of a drone at a fatal car accident recently came under question filed a civil rights lawsuit against the Hartford Police Department on Tuesday.

The lawsuit says Pedro Rivera was not breaking any state or federal laws when he flew his “drone,” a remote-controlled aircraft, over the crash site in Hartford on February 1. But Hartford police officers detained him and demanded he stop what he was doing and leave the area, the lawsuit states.

The police department’s actions violated Pedro Rivera’s fourth-amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures and his first-amendment right to free speech, the lawsuit alleges.

Lieutenant Brian Foley, commander of the department’s major crimes division, called Rivera’s employer and requested that he be disciplined, the lawsuit alleges. Rivera was suspended for a week without pay as a result and suffered economic loss, it claims. Rivera is employed as a photographer and an editor at WFSB, the lawsuit states.

Foley and Sergeant Edward Yergeau are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

A police report of the incident states that officers and supervisors at the scene of the crash noticed the drone, which was equipped with a camera, hovering over the site.

Rivera, 29, told the officers he works for WFSB but that he was not working that day and that the drone was his personal property. He also said that he feeds video back to WFSB as part of his work for the station, the report states.

Yergeau, who wrote the report, expressed concern that flying a drone over the scene might compromise the integrity of the scene and the “privacy of the victim’s body.”

“The body was covered by a blanket and not readily visible in this case, but that may not always be the case,” Yergeau wrote in the report.

The police report of the incident doesn’t accuse Rivera of breaking the rules, and no charges were filed.

But the report says that the presence of a drone at a crime scene for journalistic purposes violates FAA regulations.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which does not allow the commercial use of unmanned aircraft, is investigating the incident, said FAA spokesman Jim Peters.

AFP Photo/Saul Loeb