Oklahoma law meant to stop drone investigations parallels Texas law struck down by federal court
COLGATE, Oklahoma––How butt-hurt are Oklahoma cockfighters by ongoing Showing Animals Respect & Kindness [SHARK] drone surveillance, funded by the Humane Farming Association?
More butt-hurt than legally literate, apparently.
SHARK drone videos exposed alleged cockfights in Atoka and Cantrell counties in 2022.
No one was arrested, due to sluggish response by local sheriffs to SHARK tipoffs, but scheduled cockfights were not held, likely because the cockfighters were tipped that law enforcement might be coming.
(See Who told the Atoka County cockfighters the cops were coming? and “Here they came to snuff the rooster” in Cantrell country, but SHARK saved him.)
That sent the suspects scuttling to their friends in the Oklahoma state legislature, who promptly passed HB 3171.
Taking effect on November 1, 2021, HB 3171 states in full that “No person using an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) or drone, as defined by the Federal Aviation Administration, may, except as authorized by law:
- Trespass on property with intent to subject anyone to eavesdropping or other surveillance in a private place;
- Install in any private place, without the consent of the person or persons entitled to privacy there, any device for observing, photographing, recording, amplifying, or broadcasting sounds or events in such place, or use any such unauthorized installation;
- Intentionally use a drone to photograph, record, or otherwise observe another person in a private place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy; or
- Land a drone on the lands or waters of another resident provided the resident owns the land beneath the water body in its entirety without the owner’s consent.”
A misdemeanor claim does not trump a felony
To violate the law created by the passage of HB 3171 is a misdemeanor.
But cockfighting in Oklahoma is both a state and federal felony.
It is an established principle of law that an action which would otherwise be a misdemeanor is not an offense when undertaken to prevent a felony, if the felony can be proven in a court of law.
Showing Animals Respect & Kindness founder Steve Hindi made clear in statements to ANIMALS 24-7 that there is not much he would like better than the chance to demonstrate in court that the sheriffs in several Oklahoma counties have in truth repeatedly ignored felonies in progress to which SHARK alerted them with drone video.
No need to fly over suspects’ property
But Hindi will likely never get that opportunity.
The SHARK drones are quite capable of documenting cockfights in progress without ever flying over or landing upon the property of the suspects.
Hindi demonstrated this in November 2022, after a spokesperson for the laboratory beagle supplier Envigo alleged that the beagles at the former Envigo kennels in Cumberland, Virginia were acting frantic in a SHARK drone video because the drone disturbed them.
In actuality, the SHARK drones carry dual cameras, which simultaneously captured close-ups of the beagles and established the position of the drones in public air space.
No “reasonable expectation of privacy” at a cockpit
That is not all. HB 3171 is inapplicable to SHARK drone use anyhow, because cockfights are not held “in a private place where the person has a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
On the contrary, courts have found, no one has “a reasonable expectation of privacy” on premises where people pay an admission fee to attend.
Further, as detailed at https://jsberrylaw.com/ by the law firm J.S. Berry, of Lincoln & Council Bluffs, Iowa, “The courts have ruled that there is no expectation of privacy for objects that are left in plain view of the public, even in situations where they are in a personal home or vehicle. If police can see evidence in plain sight, the law doesn’t require them to obtain a warrant to seize it.”
A cockpit fits that definition.
Cockpits & game farms easily seen from the air
Lest there be further question, the J.S. Berry web site continues by citing specific examples in which courts have definitively ruled that “a person does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.”
One such example is “Areas of a property that can be seen from the air using the naked eye.”
The SHARK drone video cameras can collect clear video, including even of license plate numbers, from a considerable distance away.
But they, like any other camera, cannot actually see anything not visible to the naked eye.
Justin J.J. Humphrey
All of the above notwithstanding, Oklahoma state legislator Justin J.J. Humphrey of District 19, who heads the state house criminal justice and corrections committee despite history including trying to introduce a hunting season on the mythical Bigfoot, on February 10, 2023 wrote to Coal County sheriff Bryan Jump, of Colgate, Oklahoma, asking Jump to try to invoke HB 3171 against SHARK.
“I have been working with a group, the Oklahoma Game Fowl Industry,” Humphrey began, misidentifying the Oklahoma Gamefowl Commission, “to reduce the penalty for cockfighting to a misdemeanor. As a result of my efforts to reduce the punishment for cockfighting, I received a relentless attack from an animal activist.”
Note that “an animal activist” would be singular. Humphrey in his next sentence made the singular plural.
About that Head job
“These groups of individuals also slandered Atoka County sheriff Tony Head,” Humphrey complained.
“They put out a video on Sheriff Head and me because he would not file a criminal action against people they claimed were violating the cockfighting laws.
“The animal activist provided video taken by drones, which they alleged verified illegal cockfighting. However the videos did not contain any ligament evidence that could be used in court or that would even verify that a cockfight did occur.”
Suspected cockfighters hit the road, jack
Humphrey did not explain what he meant by “ligament evidence,” a term not appearing in dictionaries.
Neither did Humphrey mention that on June 26, 2022 more than 60 carloads of suspected cockfighters fled from an alleged cockpit near Redden, a ghost town within his district, at the mere rumor that Sheriff Head might show up.
Had they not been cockfighting, why would they have abruptly left?
What is Humphrey talking about?
“The activist will certainly target any elected official or law enforcement officer who does not carry out their radical agenda and personal crusade,” Humphrey continued, disregarding that cockfighting is a felony in all 50 states and U.S. territories, in many other nations around the world, and has been illegal in most of the U.S. for as long as the U.S. has existed.
Note also that Humphrey shifted back to the singular and then to the plural again.
Inability to distinguish singular from plural is often a sign that the speaker, or writer, has no idea what he or she is talking about.
But that scarcely stopped Humphrey.
“In a news article produced by Channel Eight News which aired on February 4, 2023,” Humphrey continued, “former [Oklahoma] attorney general Drew Edmondson, Wayne Pacelle with Animal Wellness, another organization known as Showing Animals Respect & Kindness, and well-known animal activist Steve Hindi, a.k.a. SHARK, states they have used drones in recent days to investigate alleged cockfighting complexes. The article reveals that these individuals and their animal activist organizations shared multiple drone video clips with News Channel 8.
“Edmondson claims the videos were a massive disappointment [in that they evidenced illegal cockfighting and raising gamecocks for export], and Edmondson states that while the clips highlight one issue, he is certain more laws are being broken.
Why would cockfighting opponents hide?
“The trio openly discusses that they have formed a joint investigation to target cockfighters,” Humphrey said, without explaining why this should not be done openly, since investigating and exposing cockfighting, unlike cockfighting itself, is not illegal.
Humphrey went on to recite the provisions of HB 3171, oblivious to the legal precedents that make it inapplicable to SHARK drone use, and oblivious in particular to a March 28, 2022 U.S. Federal Court verdict that struck down a closely comparable Texas law as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment.
“Charge Edmondson, Pacelle, & Hindi”
“I am providing proof of drone footage that was illegally videoed and then illegally provided to news networks,” Humphrey claimed. “These news networks aired this illegal drone footage across Oklahoma.
“The evidence I am providing is unquestionable,” Humphrey asserted, “and I hope you will take immediate action to charge Drew Edmondson, Wayne Pacelle, and Steve Hindi with the crime of illegally using a drone.”
Note: While Hindi has been an accomplished drone pilot for more than 15 years, neither Edmondson nor Pacelle has ever accompanied Hindi on a drone mission.
Humphrey is believed to have written on behalf of his constituent Bobby Fairchild, of Colgate, a recent target of SHARK videos detailing his gamecock export business.
(See Feds bust cockfighting spurs in the mail but ignore mailings of gamecocks.)
Bobby Fairchild, 57, was in September 2010 sentenced to serve 175 months in prison, followed by 36 months of supervised release.
Used breeding gamecocks as cover for drug-dealing
According to transcripts of trial testimony from the case, “The body of information gathered by DEA Tulsa [Drug Enforcement Agency] showed that Fairchild has been engaged in illegal drug trafficking for a period of years.
“The Oklahoma Bureau of Narcotics & Dangerous Drugs has a large body of information showing that Fairchild has a history of large scale distribution of various drugs.
“The DEA Tulsa investigation of Fairchild shows that Fairchild is the leader of an interstate drug conspiracy. Fairchild uses his activity as a breeder of gamecocks as cover for his illegal drug brokerage and distribution business.”
Oklahoma 49th district state representative Josh Cantrell on February 15, 2023 sent a letter similar to the Humphrey letter of five days earlier to Carter County sheriff Chris Bryant and district attorney Craig Ladd.
Wrote Cantrell, “It has been brought to my attention that a Carter County citizen, Troy Thompson, who resides within my district, has been targeted by Mr. Drew Edmondson, Mr. Wayne Pacelle, and Mr. Steve Hindi.”
Troy Thompson raises gamecocks at a facility which is not only visible to the naked eye, even from the ground on public property, but also from space, as evidenced by Bing topographical mapping.
“Had their actions broadcasted”
“I believe these three individuals need to be investigated,” Cantrell said, “for possibly violating state law Section 1743 of Title 21, Unmanned Aircraft Systems or Drone, Prohibited Acts, that was passed into law by the state legislature and signed by the governor under HB 3171 in the 2022 regular session.”
Even if Humphrey failed to figure it out, a few minutes of investigation by Cantrell himself should have shown him the inapplicability of HB 3171 to the SHARK anti-cockfighting drone operations.
“Mr. Edmondson, Mr. Pacelle and Mr. Hindi had their actions broadcasted on the news on February 2nd on Channel 4, Oklahoma City, and February 4 on Channel 8, Tulsa,” Cantrell blustered on.
Junior high school trig
But if either Carter County sheriff Chris Bryant or district attorney Craig Ladd bothers to look at the video images of the Troy Thompson Game Farm broadcast on February 2 and February 4, 2023, they should not need more than junior high school level trigonometry skills for them to figure out that the SHARK drone was not over Troy Thompson’s land when the images were taken.
The SHARK video shows what appear to be hundreds of gamecocks staked out at various stages of maturity, just out of pecking range of each other, in preparation for fighting––a distinctly different arrangement from anything done in connection with producing either poultry or eggs to be eaten.