Man who landed gyrocopter at Capitol in protest pleads guilty to felony

21 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Gyrocopter pilot pleads guilty to federal charges – that was kind of the point.

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Florida man who piloted his one-person aircraft through some of the nation’s most restricted airspace and landed on the lawn of the U.S. He audaciously flew his single-seater aircraft through one of the country’s most restricted airspaces, defiantly landed it on the US Capitol’s West Lawn only to be greeted by a massive law enforcement response, and seemingly has no regrets about it now.Douglas Hughes said earlier this month that he had agreed to a deal in which he would plead guilty to a felony, operating a gyrocopter without a license.

The felony carries a potential for up to three years in prison, but prosecutors said they would not request more than 10 months if he pleaded guilty, according to Mr. He is expected to formally enter the plea during a federal court hearing Friday in Washington. (TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. In a plea deal with prosecutors, Douglas Hughes, 62, of Ruskin, Fla., admitted to the lead count of a May indictment charging him with six felony and misdemeanor offenses for flying his low-power gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pa., to the District on April 15.

Hughes was a mail carrier at the time, and he was carrying letters for each member of Congress and had a Postal Service logo on the tail section of his gyrocopter. His website,thedemocracyclub.org, detailed his plans to personally deliver letters to all members of Congress to raise awareness about campaign finance corruption. Even before he appeared in court, Hughes and protest organizers supporting him announced that he would ask the judge for an April sentencing so he could be in town and join a planned march to the U.S. Hughes has said that he lost his job as a postal worker after the flight and that after he resolves his criminal case, he hopes to work as an activist and continue to speak out against money in politics. An open question is whether Hughes will be allowed to participate in a march for campaign-finance reform from Philadelphia to Washington from April 2 to 11 and speak at a rally in the capital.

Capitol in Washington from Philadelphia. “I hope by putting my freedom on the line, others might realize how precious their freedom is and join those of us engaged in the fight to preserve and protect our government of, by and for the people,” Hughes said. “It creates a situation where this court could be turned into a circus,” Chawla said. “We want legitimate protest that is not in violation of our laws.” Hughes’s attorney, Mark L. Goldstone said the incident “exposed major flaws” in Washington’s air defense system, and it came after a series of embarrassing security lapses for the Secret Service. Goldstone, had said before the plea that Hughes “doesn’t intend to give up his First Amendment rights to take on corruption in government,” but he also “has no intention of getting arrested.” Kollar-Kotelly did not decide whether she would alter the terms of Hughes’s conditional release to allow him to leave his home in Hillsborough County, Fla., to attend the rally, and asked for further briefings on that issue.

Indeed, an August report by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee showed the incident brought to light significant gaps in capitol security and the need for better air security technology and information-sharing. But Tony Miles, a federal public defender, said Hughes wouldn’t break the law and said prosecutors couldn’t stifle Hughes’ rights to protest the cause that landed him in federal court. Kollar-Kotelly said she wanted to learn more about the march and rally organized by a group called 99 Rise before deciding whether to allow Hughes to participate. Federal Election Commission, in which the court decided campaign contributions were a form of “political speech” and struck down limits on how much corporations and unions could give to political contenders.

Hughes initially faced charges of flying without an airman’s certificate, operating an unregistered aircraft, flying in restricted national-defense airspace without a flight plan and labeling a vehicle falsely as part of the Postal Service. She said sentencing guidelines for trespassing suggested a sentence of zero to six months for someone with his background, but that trespassing wasn’t really analogous to what he did. Hughes was seen flying about 100 feet off the ground along the National Mall from the Washington Monument before landing on the Capitol’s West Front lawn, according to Kathryn Rivera, a U.S. At a congressional hearing in April, military and civilian authorities said they were developing plans to better track and defend against small, slow-moving aircraft like Hughes was flying.

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