The state cannot afford to delay taking action on regulating the weaponized use of drones, according to Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford.
Mushinsky, ranking member of the legislature’s Program Review and Investigations Committee, is championing a bill that was unanimously approved by the committee last week.
The legislation is now headed to the Judiciary Committee where Mushinsky said it likely will be melded with another drone initiative, a bill coming out of the Public Safety and Security Committee.
The legislation approved by Mushinsky’s committee targets weaponization, but allows police to use drones for “bomb squad” purposes.
Similarly, the Public Safety bill would make it a crime to use computer software or technology to release tear gas or control a deadly weapon remotely through a drone. It also limits the use of drones by law enforcement and establishes a retention and destruction requirement for information collected by law enforcement agency drones.
Mushinsky said “about half the states” have taken legislative action of some sort regulating drone usage. She said there are “about 700,000 drones in the country and that number grows daily. At the same time, you can get one for about $50. They are so affordable.”
One point Mushinsky fears is getting lost in the debate over possible drone legislation is the idea that there are “many good uses” for drones.
“They are used to help in so many ways,” she said. “They help in the surveying of farms, real estate, they are real amazing machines. We just want to make sure they will not be used for any malicious intent.”
The Program Review and Investigations bill is an attempt to curb civilian and police use of unmanned aerial devices to carry guns, incendiary devices, tear gas, or other weapons. This is the second attempt to pass a drone bill after a more comprehensive bill failed to become law in 2015.
Mushinsky said the committee in their 2014 study of drones anticipated the possibility a civilian might attempt to modify drones in a way that endangered their neighborhood, and sought to make such modifications illegal.
The committee’s fear was realized when a Clinton teenager modified his drone to carry a flamethrower and a firearm, which he operated remotely. Under both bills, such activities will be illegal.
That resident, Austin Haughwout, now 19, filed a lawsuit against Central Connecticut State University after the school expelled Haughwout last October for building a gun-firing drone.
Haughwout, in 2015, posted a video on YouTube, of a handgun fired from a hovering drone in a wooded area. Authorities reported there were approximately 2 million views of the “Flying Gun” video.
Haughwout’s lawsuit, filed in New Britain Superior Court, alleges that the Clinton teen was expelled unlawfully by university officials. Haughwout was an engineering student at CCSU.
The lawsuit names as the defendants Laura Tordenti, CCSU’s vice-president of student affairs; Christopher Dukes, the judicial director within the university’s Office of Student Conduct; Ramon Hernandez, CCSU’s associate dean for student affairs; and Densil Samuda, a CCSU Police Department detective.
In a disciplinary hearing held Oct. 14 at CCSU, no witnesses were called by the defendants to testify against Haughwout, the lawsuit states. During the hearing, Haughwout denied “each and every allegation made by the defendants,” according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges that the hearing was prompted by a letter, written by a CCSU engineering professor, that accused Haughwout of “‘immoral and extremely dangerous’ activity by creating the UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) and speculated that the plaintiff could involve other students and use of facilities within CCSU’s Engineering Department.”
The complaint states that Haughwout had never met the professor who wrote the letter; nor had he taken any classes taught by him. The lawsuit also seeks monetary damages.
“The defendants failed to offer a modicum of evidence to support the allegations, resulting in a denial of fundamental fairness, notice and the right to contest charges, and willfully made false and misleading representations to the plaintiff concerning the nature and substance of any accusations,” the lawsuit continues, “so as to preclude his ability to meet and respond to the charges.”
Haughwout was expelled on Oct. 19, five days after the hearing.
Jon L. Schoenhorn, Haughwout’s attorney, referred to CCSU’s actions against his client as a “kangaroo court.”
“It appears the university took this action out of some fear of his invention,” said Schoenhorn. “Any public university that is going to accuse has to put on evidence. It cannot make a decision on a baseless accusation.”
Janice Palmer, a CCSU media relations officer, said the university does not comment on pending legal matters.