See a legally captured drone flight of Ohio Stadium in the video player above.
CINCINNATI (WCMH) — Two men have admitted to illegal drone flights at separate Cincinnati sporting events, but another in Columbus saw his charges dropped.
Each of the cases stemmed from investigators accusing the three pilots of violating temporary flight restrictions before or during a sporting event at three venues. The Federal Aviation Administration creates these no-fly zones in a three-mile radius around certain stadiums. Violating them is a misdemeanor crime that can carry up to one year in prison, a year of supervised release and a $100,000 fine, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Ohio.
Flying over the Cincinnati Bengals
Dailon Dabney, 24, initially pleaded not guilty to all charges related to his flight over the Cincinnati Bengals stadium. On Tuesday, however, he changed his plea to guilty on violating a temporary flight restriction in federal court, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He had also previously faced a charge of operating an unregistered drone but did not enter a plea for that charge. Federal court records showed Dabney had made a plea agreement with prosecutors.
On Jan. 15, 2022, Dabney flew his drone into the Bengals’ stadium, then over players and the crowd during a game. He had not registered his drone with the FAA, nor was he a properly certified pilot. After flying through the stadium, he posted videos captured by the drone to social media and a YouTube channel called BrickByBrickFilms.
U.S. Attorney Kenneth Parker said during the initial stages of the case that Dabney could have potentially lost control of the drone and hurt someone in the stadium, or caused a panic in the crowd.
“Even if there is no intent to harm, this conduct poses a direct risk to the players and the individuals in the stands,” Parker said.
Unfazed by the court proceedings, Dabney on Wednesday posted YouTube videos of FAA agents coming to his house as well as news reports about his guilty plea. He then posted the links in the comments of his original video inside the stadium to draw more viewers in.
“Who wants this faa video ?? (sic) 100 likes and I’ll drop it,” Dabney – acting as another account, BiggangGaming – commented on the Bengals stadium flight video. “I have ring camera footage of the faa and fbi coming to my house !! Just thinking wen should I drop it (sic).”
Court records did not show any scheduled sentencing date for Dabney.
Flight over the Cincinnati Reds
During the home opener for the Cincinnati Reds’ season on April 12, 2022, Kentucky drone owner Travis Lenhoff flew his drone over the Great American Ball Park. Since the FAA confirmed in court documents that he had not registered his drone, prosecutors later charged Lenhoff, 38, with operating an unregistered drone.
Like Dabney, Lenhoff initially pleaded not guilty to the charge. In a similar fashion, he also took a plea agreement and pleaded guilty to an amended charge of violating a temporary flight restriction, according to court records. However, Lenhoff was also subject to a forfeiture allegation that meant he would have to let the U.S. take his drone, a DJI Air 2S. He did not have a sentencing date listed.
Charges dropped for drone flight at Ohio Stadium
Not all drone cases in Ohio have ended with guilty pleas, however. Columbus police had claimed a man flew his drone in December during a temporary flight restriction at Ohio Stadium. However, the FAA starts these no-fly zones one hour before a game and ends them one hour after, and the case affidavit showed he flew at the stadium over 10 hours prior to a 7:30 p.m. Buckeyes game.
Still, the pilot did not have his Part 107 or TRUST certifications, and was originally charged with two counts of operating an aircraft without a license. But a Franklin County Municipal Court judge dismissed both charges against the pilot and closed the case on Feb. 16.
The TRUST certificate is required by law for recreational drone pilots to show proof that they have passed an aviation knowledge and safety test, and a Part 107 license is a requirement for pilots doing commercial work, according to the FAA. Any drone pilot who wants to fly in controlled airspace — common in cities and near airports — has to have one of these certifications and request authorization prior to flying.
In addition to a pilot certification, drones weighing more than half a pound and less than 55 pounds have to become registered aircraft with the FAA before flying, which neither Dabney nor Lenhoff did. The agency has a website set up where pilots can do so for a $5 fee.