A North Highlands man was charged Tuesday by a federal court in San Jose for violating national airspace when he flew a drone and dropped flyers over two NFL games in 2017.
The complaint charges Tracy Michael Mapes, 56, with violations of national defense airspace, according to a news release from the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Mapes was arrested and cited in 2017 in Santa Clara after dropping leaflets over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and the Oakland Coliseum, according to previous reporting by The Sacramento Bee. Games were being played in both stadiums at the time the leaflets were dropped, and tens of thousands of people were present.
The Federal Aviation Administration designates the airspace above and within a three-mile radius of NFL stadiums during games as important to national security, and its use is restricted, according to the court. Mapes, who had was registered with the FAA in February 2016 to operate unmanned aircraft systems, understood the guidelines imposed by regulators on appropriate drone operation, according to the affidavit.
According to the affidavit, when Alameda County sheriff’s deputies found the man controlling the drone a half-mile from the stadium and asked if he had permission to fly over the event, Mapes responded, “Probably not.” Prosecutors said that Mapes also acknowledged that he had come from the 49ers game, and that he “believed his actions of flying a UAS over the stadiums and distributing his message outweighed any repercussions.”
Mapes has, in the past, stated publicly he was responsible for the acts. In 2017, he told KGO-TV, the ABC affiliate in San Francisco, that he dropped the leaflets by drone to redress perceived violations of the Constitution by the media and others. The dropped flyers addressed free speech and called TV news stations corrupt.
“Somebody doesn’t do what I did yesterday because they didn’t believe in what they were trying to tell you,” Mapes told KGO after the incidents. “I’ve been telling this story for 10 years.”
Similar flyers calling the press “the enemy” were dropped earlier this month in several locations in Sacramento; some of the flyers also had swastikas printed on them. Mapes told the Sacramento News & Review earlier this month that he intended that stunt as a criticism of law enforcement and the media.
The flyers dropped in Sacramento had the name “Tracy Mapes” printed on the corner with a copyright symbol and the year 2018, similar to those from 2017 shown in the federal complaint.
Mapes is scheduled to make his initial appearance in federal court on June 4 in San Jose.
Mapes also is a defendant in a 2018 misdemeanor vandalism case in Sacramento Superior Court. That case is scheduled to resume June 6 when a judge will determine whether Mapes is competent to stand trial.