The case marked the first time the Seattle City Attorney’s Office has charged anyone with mishandling a drone in a public space.
A man who was found guilty of reckless endangerment after his drone injured two people during Seattle’s 2015 Pride Parade, including a woman knocked unconscious, was sentenced Friday to 30 days in jail.
The sentence, which also included a $500 fine, was imposed on Paul M. Skinner, 38, by Seattle Municipal Court Willie Gregory, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
Gregory told Skinner, who lost control of the drone, he recognized the incident that injured the parade goers was an accident, the office said in a news release.
But Skinner had “engaged in conduct that put people in danger of being injured, which is what happened,” Gregory said.
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City Attorney Pete Holmes, who had sought 90 days of jail time, said in the release that he views the faulty operation of drones “as a serious public-safety issue that will only get worse,” noting the increasing prevalence of drones on the market.
Skinner, the owner of an aerial photography company, was convicted by a jury last month of the gross misdemeanor after being charged with conduct that created a “substantial risk of death or serious bodily injury to another person.”
The case marked the first time the City Attorney’s Office has charged anyone with mishandling a drone in a public space.
Skinner declined to comment when reached by phone Friday. His attorney, Jeffrey Kradel, said the sentence was “too severe” for an act that wasn’t intentional.
He said his client was singled out for harsh treatment to scare other drone users, calling that an improper use of prosecutorial authority.
The woman, then 25, was standing near Fourth Avenue and Madison Street on June 28, 2015, when the 18-inch-by-18-inch drone crashed into a building and fell into the crowd, striking her in the head, according to Seattle police.
The woman’s boyfriend caught her as she fell to the ground. An off-duty firefighter helped treat the woman and called for police.
The drone retailed for about $1,200 and weighed about 2 pounds, police said at the time.
During the trial, prosecutors called several witnesses to testify, including the woman, who suffered a concussion, and a man who suffered a minor bruise, according to the City Attorney’s Office.
The verdict came days after representatives of Seattle’s Space Needle revealed an incident — captured on video — in which a flying drone struck the structure’s roof while pyrotechnicians were prepping for the fireworks display on New Year’s Eve.
During Friday’s sentencing, Assistant City Prosecutor Raymond Lee said Seattle residents “should not fear a drone strike falling from the sky” and that Skinner created the situation that caused the harm, according to the news release.
In handing down the sentence, Gregory, who had presided over the trial, told Skinner the injured woman “had a hard time talking about what happened to her when you placed that drone in the air,” the news release said.
A May 25 hearing has been set to determine the amount of restitution Skinner owes the woman for her medical treatment.
Skinner’s attorney said he will appeal the verdict. While pending, Skinner will not have to serve the 30 days in jail or pay the fine.
Even with the appeal, Skinner will have to take a certified class on drone safety under the sentence.
Holmes praised the work of Lee and his co-counsel, Assistant City Attorney Jeff Wolf.
“With limited legal tools at our disposal,” Holmes said, “I’m extremely proud of the job” they did.
“Operators should know that we will continue to go after them when they disregard public safety,” he said.