Orlando man said deputies forced him to delete video he captured on drone

By Caroline Rowland, Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, March 10, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT

An Orlando man believes Orange County deputies went too far and violated his civil rights after forcing him to delete video he took with his drone.

Aaron Bitler said he flies his drone every day. He thought it was normal to send it up in the air when he saw deputies in his neighborhood Monday night.

"I'm bringing it up and I'm trying to see what the police (are) looking at," Bitler said. "I want to make sure there is no one coming near us or our property."

Bitler said it was just a few minutes after his drone was about 200 feet high when he noticed the Orange County Sheriff's Office's helicopter light was shining down on him.

"I have a whole bunch of deputies in front of me," Bitler said, recalling the incident. "They hassle me, tell me I'm hindering an investigation (and) then they make me take my drone inside. Then two officers came inside and made me delete my video."

Bitler said he deleted the video because he didn't want to be arrested.

Sheriff's office spokeswoman Jane Watrel said deputies were responding to a burglary call across the street from Bitler's home and that deputies talked to Bitler about his drone.

"Law enforcement can request someone not to interfere with an investigation and a drone could be that extension of interference and best safety practice," Watrel said.

Watrel released a further statement Tuesday night:

"We are still trying to determine what happened when the patrol deputy made contact with the drone operator.

"However, there is deep concern over this incident because the drone owner is in clear violation of FAA rules concerning flying drones near airports." 

There are no laws currently in Florida relating to the civilian use of drones. The only drone-related law in place prohibits law enforcement from using the unmanned aircraft.

"In this type of situation, I don't know how they could make him delete the video," News 13 Legal Analyst Jaya Belani said.

Was Bitler filming with a drone any different than someone filming with a cell phone? Belani doesn't think so.

"There's so many different areas of cell phone and video and camera usage, you would have to block if you just block a drone," Belani said.

The Florida Legislature is trying to pass a law this session regarding civilian use of drones as the devices surge in popularity.

If the law passes, it would protect individuals and their properties from being taped by a drone without consent. The bill passed its first committee hearing Tuesday.