Police Interrupt Prison Drone Delivery

A Texas man is accused of using a drone to try to drop cell phones and other contraband into a federal prison.

DJI Matrice 600 Pro drone sitting on grass

Turner was allegedly operating a “hexacopter” drone like this one, with a maximum payload of 12 pounds. [Courtesy: U.S. Department of Interior]

A federal grand jury has indicted a man in Beaumont, Texas, after police said they caught him trying to use a drone to fly contraband into a prison. 

The indictment charged Davien Phillip Turner, 44, with owning or operating an unregistered drone and serving or attempting to serve as an airman without an airman’s certificate, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Eastern District of Texas, announced Tuesday. 

The arrest of Turner, who also goes by Davien Phillip Mayo, is part of a disturbing trend involving drones which are designated as “unmanned aircraft systems” (UAS) by the FAA. 

“Prisons around the country have faced the problem of individuals using drones to fly over prison complexes and drop contraband items to the prison population,” a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. 

Details of the case are now being investigated by the FBI, the Bureau of Prisons, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, and the FAA. 

On May 19, police in Jefferson County, Texas, responded to a report that someone was “operating a drone on the property of the Federal Correctional Complex in Beaumont,” the statement said. They “found Turner in the area where the drone was being operated,” according to authorities. 

Law enforcement officers also “discovered several bags near the drone that Turner allegedly was going to drop into the prison complex via the drone,” the statement said.  Police listed several items in the bags, including:

  • tobacco
  • cell phones
  • cell phone chargers
  • various tools
  • vape pens

Officers suspect these goods “were to be sold by inmates within the prison.”

About the Drone

The UAS allegedly used by Turner was identified as a DJI Matrice 600 Pro, which is used by professional drone pilots, but is no longer in production. According to DJI’s website, the Matrice 600 Pro features a hexacopter design propelled by six motors and proprotors. Its maximum flight time, with a payload of up to 5.5 kg (12 pounds) and six batteries, ranges between 16 and 18 minutes. 

The drone also has a maximum range of 3.1 sm, and features retractable landing gear.  Federal regulations require all drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds to be registered. The FAA also requires all drone operators flying for non-recreational purposes to obtain an FAA remote pilot certificate under 14 CFR Part 107.

If convicted, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Turner will face up to three years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000. 

Thom is a former senior editor for FLYING. Previously, his freelance reporting appeared in aviation industry magazines. Thom also spent three decades as a TV and digital journalist at CNN’s bureaus in Washington and Atlanta, eventually specializing in aviation. He has reported from air shows in Oshkosh, Farnborough and Paris. Follow Thom on Twitter @thompatterson.

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