Drone Photographer Was Hired by a Township to Spy on a Civilian

Drone shot
Court documents.

Michigan Supreme Court has heard a remarkable case in which a man has complained that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated after the township he lives in hired a drone photographer to spy on his property.

The case between Long Lake Township and Todd Maxon stems from Maxon’s passion for buying cars and fixing them. Back in 2008, Long Lake Township accused him of operating an illegal junkyard and violating residential zoning laws.

The two parties went to court and Maxon was allowed to keep the vehicles on his property so long as he didn’t add any more.

In the intervening years, Long Lake Township has hired a drone photographer to survey Maxon’s property to ensure he was complying with the court’s ruling.

Years later, the town filed a complaint stating Maxon and his wife “significantly increased the scope of the junk cars and other junk material being kept on their property.” The evidence it sighted was “aerial photographs.”

Controversially, the town did not apply for a warrant to fly a drone over Maxon’s property and hired a commercial drone photographer to do the surveillance.

The drone photographer, Dennis Wiand who operates Zero Gravity Aerial, wrote an affidavit detailing an altercation he got into with Maxon while flying the camera outside his home.

“Todd [Maxon] appeared to be frustrated and began to walk away and told me to ‘Go f*** yourself,’” Wiand says.

Speaking to 404 Media, Wiand explains that he specializes in environmental monitoring and that he had never surveyed an environment such as Maxon’s property.

“I tried to help them solve a problem,” Wiand tells 404. “I was hired to gather data.”

The case was heard on Wednesday at Michigan Supreme Court, the state’s highest court. The justices did not make a decision on Wednesday but attorneys acting on behalf of the Maxons says they are prepared to take the case to the U.S. Supreme Court if the ruling goes against the couple.

“Runaway drone surveillance is pretty much the start of every dystopian science fiction novel,” Robert Frommer, senior attorney with the national nonprofit Institute for Justice, tells WWMT.

Earlier this year, PetaPixel reported on a customer who claimed he was dropped by his longtime home insurance company based on photos taken by a drone over his property.