A federal judge has ordered a father and his teenage son to testify under oath at depositions and hand over documents about drones shown in online videos firing a gun and deploying a flame thrower in their backyard.
Judge Jeffrey Meyer ruled Monday in the case of Bret Haughwout and his 19-year-old son, Austin Haughwout, who have refused to comply with Federal Aviation Administration subpoenas seeking their testimony and documents. The judge ordered them to comply within 30 days.
Austin Haughwout uploaded the videos to his YouTube channel last year. One video, viewed nearly 3.8 million times, shows a flying drone equipped with a handgun firing rounds. Another video, viewed nearly 600,000 times, shows a flying drone with a flamethrower lighting up a spit-roasting Thanksgiving turkey.
Federal prosecutors, on behalf of the FAA, argued the subpoenas are part of a legitimate investigation into potential violations of FAA regulations banning people from operating "aircraft" in a reckless manner.
The Haughwouts' lawyer, Mario Cerame, told the judge in New Haven the subpoenas violate their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures and questioned the agency's authority to regulate recreational drones.
Cerame said Tuesday that he was reviewing the judge's order and no decision on a possible appeal has been made.
Cerame previously argued the FAA was wrong to rely on aircraft regulations to try to subpoena his clients, who live in Clinton, about their recreational use of drones. He said he believes the case potentially has national significance because it would set a precedent on how much authority the FAA has over recreational drone use.
The FAA has no formal regulations for the recreational use of drones but says there are some requirements, including having to register unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds and notifying airport operators before flying drones within 5 miles of airports. The agency proposed its first set of regulations for commercial drone use in June.
The judge said in his decision Congress has defined the term "aircraft" in "stunningly broad terms" but there is no dispute the weaponized drones in the videos raise questions about possible danger to life or property.
At the beginning of July, Austin Haughwout was arrested on child porn charges. Authorities said they found inappropriate images on his cell phone and evidence that he was trying to solicit a minor for a sex act. That case is still pending.