A Sacramento man was arrested Sunday after a drone was spotted over two NFL stadiums in the Bay Area dropping fliers, according to the Santa Clara Police Department.
The suspected drone pilot, identified as 55-year-old Tracy Michael Mapes, first flew the drone over Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, where the 49ers were playing the Seattle Seahawks, police Lt. Dan Moreno told The Sacramento Bee.
It happened to be the same game at which first responders, including police, were being honored for First Responder Appreciation Week.
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Officers spotted the drone over the stadium about 2:10 p.m. The drone was dropping leaflets that addressed free speech and railed against television news stations, calling them corrupt, according to Moreno.
“Officers tried to identify where the drone came from and it took off,” Moreno said. However, “we quickly identified a potential suspect and vehicle.”
The drone and its pilot headed to Oakland to drop the fliers at the Coliseum, where the Raiders were playing the Denver Broncos.
A sheriff’s deputy in Oakland spotted the vehicle, according to Moreno, and then Santa Clara authorities took Mapes into custody on misdemeanor charges. They cited and released him and the drone was seized.
Santa Clara has an ordinance that makes it illegal to fly a drone within 500 yards of the 49ers’ stadium.
Mapes could be facing far more serious charges, however, as he apparently violated Federal Aviation Administration site restrictions, Moreno said.
“Planes were taking off and landing as the drone was in the air,” Moreno said.
It is illegal to fly a drone within five miles of an airport, and both of the stadiums are five miles or less from airports.
Local, state and federal officials are investigating and Mapes could face federal charges.
It turns out his attempts to get the fliers into the hands of fans was mostly unsuccessful.
“Wind carried most of the leaflets away,” Moreno said.
Mapes in 2002 was described in The Bee as a professional video photographer.
That year, an off-duty Vallejo police officer led Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies and city police on a high-speed car chase along the Capital City Freeway. Mapes shot footage of officers stopping the Jaguar and then letting the off-duty officer go, prompting an internal affairs investigation by the Sheriff’s Department. Mapes tried to sell the tape on eBay.
Later that year, Mapes was arrested by Sheriff’s deputies for trespassing at McClellan Park after he tried to film an emergency landing by a California Highway Patrol plane. Charges were later dropped.