Police: Fired officer used drone to spy on neighbors

Published: Sep. 14, 2015 at 5:47 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 14, 2015 at 9:07 PM EDT
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VALDOSTA, GA (WALB) - A Valdosta police officer was out of a job as of Monday evening after being arrested for reportedly using a drone to eavesdrop on a neighbor.

Officer Howard Kirkland, 53, of Ray City, was fired Monday morning, Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress confirmed.

He had been on suspension since September 4th. He was arrested at the police department by Lanier County Sheriff's Deputies on September 10th. The sheriff's office had been conducting an investigation for about a week.

Valdosta Police Chief Brian Childress said he waited to release information about the arrest because he didn't want to compromise the investigation.

"The only thing we wanted to wait on, and this was a joint decision by the police department and Lanier County, was we wanted to allow them to continue their investigation and allow our internal investigation to continue," Chief Childress explained.

As of Monday evening, Kirkland was charged with felony eavesdropping and was out on bond. The Lanier County Sheriff's Office confirmed he was bonded out by family members the day he was arrested.

The Lanier County Sheriff's Office did not say Monday what may have led to the suspected eavesdropping, though in a press release did say that complaints began coming in to the sheriff's office in late June from Kirkland's neighbors.

According to the press release, a Lanier County sheriff's deputy spoke to Kirkland after the initial complaints in an effort to resolve the issue. But, according to the release, complaints came in again in July.

Lanier County Sheriff Nick Norton released the following statement regarding the arrest:

"The use of "drone" or unmanned surveillance aircraft in and around residential areas is something that needs to be approached very carefully by persons who buy and use such devices.

I think we will see additional legislation concerning these devices and their potential for abuse addressed soon by law makers and possibly see a more rigid set of guidelines concerning their use in and around populated areas.

Again this is an issue where breaking technology provides use with a highly capable tool that can be used for both legal or illegal purposes and operators have to always err on the side of caution, especially after having been repeatedly warned concerning the matter.

As far as this particular case goes, the investigation is ongoing and we appreciate the assistance and cooperation of Chief Childress and the Valdosta Police Department and other agencies involved.

This is the LAST thing we wanted to be confronted with as far as "types" of cases go, but we have a responsibility to address the complaints of our citizens and to determine if probable cause exists to make and arrest.

After that, it will be up to the court system to decide guilt or innocence based on the information we provide and that is provided by the accused.

What I really do appreciate is that the victims in this case attempted to address the situation themselves but contacted the Sheriff's Office when that failed rather than taking more drastic action."

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