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'It's subhuman': Videos show Pueblo drone provoking unhoused people for social media

The Pueblo Chieftain 9/25/2022 Josue Perez, The Pueblo Chieftain

A now-defunct TikTok account containing videos of people in Pueblo who appear to be homeless and being provoked by a flying drone attracted thousands of followers and millions of views before being taken down by the social media platform.

Local homeless advocacy organizations and experts on regulations governing the operation of drones have expressed outrage at the videos, which not only seem to harass people experiencing homelessness, but are likely evidence of the drone's operator violating regulations set by the Federal Aviation Administration.

The TikTok account was called “BumsnDrones,” and its previous name was "Bad2TheDrone." Similar accounts are active on YouTube and Instagram under the same name, and a new account with the "BumsnDrones" name was active on TikTok as of Friday evening.

A description under one video on the account's YouTube channel states it was filmed in the Fountain Creek area of Pueblo; another shows signage of Taylor Fence Company, a local fence contractor. 

In two separate videos, the drone hovers above individuals for an unspecified period of time and distance and appears to provoke them by flying up and down. Other videos show individuals throwing projectiles at the unmanned aircraft system, such as rocks, water bottles and sticks.

“It’s really disappointing to see the way this individual is harassing and bullying people experiencing homelessness,” said Cathy Alderman, chief communications and public policy officer for Colorado Coalition for the Homeless. “It was difficult to watch people put in humiliating and exposed positions.” 

In nearly all of the videos posted on each channel, music plays in the background, seemingly for comedic effect. Many of the individuals filmed in the videos attempt to flee the vicinity of the drone or seem agitated by its presence. 

Multiple videos appear to show the operator of the drone mocking or taunting the individuals by flying close to them before bolting in another direction either vertically or horizontally when the individuals reach for it. 

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Videos on the TikTok and Instagram accounts contain hashtags such as “dronevideo,” “prank,” “grandtheftauto,” “bumwatching” and “droningbums.” 

“They were mocking and harassing these individuals,” Alderman said. “They had parody music playing in the background as if these individuals were the subject of taunting and some kind of cartoon portrayal. If their intent was to (shine a light) on the issue, then I think they’ve gone about it in a very callous way.” 

The since-defunct “BumsnDrones” TikTok account with millions of views on its videos was active as of Tuesday, Sept. 20 but appeared to be deactivated the following day. 

A representative from TikTok did not respond to the Chieftain's request for comment when asked if the account violated its terms of service, but comments on others' social media pages featuring videos from the account indicated TikTok removed some videos.

Other videos on the social media pages show areas and signage that appear to be city-owned property in Pueblo, including what appears to be downtown. 

The Chieftain reached out to an email address listed on the “BumsnDrones” TikTok channel, and an individual, who refused to give their name, sent a response asking for emailed questions. The unidentified individual later denied a request for a phone interview. 

The Chieftain sent a list of detailed questions to the individual, including whether they felt their actions might constitute harassment, but they refused to respond.

The account owner of “BumsnDrones” reportedly told Newsweek their goal with the videos was to “inspire change” and “shine a light” on the local homelessness crisis. The individual also was not named in Newsweek’s report. 

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Drone use could violate FAA regulations

The Chieftain spoke with a Colorado-based drone expert who said some of the drone operator’s actions were likely violations of FAA regulations. 

“(This person) is an idiot,” said Vic Moss, the director of legislative affairs for UAS Colorado, which is the state’s drone business league. “He has no business owning a drone. It’s subhuman what he’s doing to harass people like that, homeless or not.” 

Moss, a FAA Safety Team Drone Pro based in Lakewood, has flown drones since 2014. He is a member of the Advanced Aviation Advisory Committee, which gathers quarterly in Washington, D.C., and meets with the FAA, U.S. Integration Office and Department of Transportation to review drone regulations. 

Moss said he was sent some of the videos associated with the “BumsnDrones'' account and reviewed them. He analyzed two more during an interview with the Chieftain. 

“This person could fall under violation of reckless flight because he’s flying towards people,” Moss said. “If he’s flying an unregistered aircraft, that is absolutely a violation.”

Moss added that the operator of the drone could be in violation of FAA violations if flying without a Part 107 drone license. 

“The 107 is default, and in order to qualify for flying under the recreational exception, the first part of that is the flight has to be purely for recreation, and he’s not flying up there purely for recreation. If he is, he’s sick.” 

In another video, the drone operator appears to be piloting the drone near a powerline while filming an individual. Moss said the FAA could determine that action, even if the person is unaware of the powerline, is a violation of regulation 107.23(a), which prohibits “operating a small unmanned aircraft system in a manner so as to endanger the life or property of another.” 

In another video posted to YouTube, multiple men are seen using firearms to shoot at a drone filming them. Shooting at a drone, according to Title 18 US Code 32, is a federal violation. However, Sgt. Frank Ortega of the Pueblo Police Department said the operator of the drone never reported the incident to police.

Moss said the drone operator behind the “BumsnDrones” accounts could be subject to a notification to propose a fine by the FAA if he were to be found in breach of regulatory violations, which includes reckless operations, according to the FAA’s Drone Response Playbook for Public Safety

Local law enforcement officials can inform the FAA if they suspect a drone operator of violating federal law, but the FAA can also initiate its own investigation if it chooses, Moss said. 

Ortega said Pueblo PD Sgt. Jason Smith, the sergeant responsible for the department's drone unit, has reached out to the FAA concerning the videos.

The FAA administers and enforces FAA regulations, and investigations are handled by local Flight Standard District Offices, said Rick Breitenfeldt, public affairs specialist with the FAA. 

Breitenfeldt told the Chieftain via email that a person must hold a waiver or be in compliance with 14 CFR part 107 Subpart D if a remote pilot operates over people not participating directly in the operation and not under a covered structure.

Breitenfeldt also wrote that if a pilot is operating over nonparticipants at any time, it is a violation of FAA rules

“The entire drone community is incredibly disappointed in the actions of this drone operator,” Moss said. “I’m not even going to call him a pilot because I don’t think he is a pilot. He certainly doesn’t deserve the title of pilot. It’s a horrid thing he’s doing and he needs to stop, not just for the drone community, but holy crud, you just don’t do that to people.” 

Laws around drones vary across Colorado, nation

Drone regulations in Colorado prohibit their use in Colorado state parks, except parts of Cherry Creek and Chatfield state parks, and operators cannot use drones to hunt, scout or detect wildlife. 

Other states have passed laws regulating the use of drones, including California, where drone pilots are not allowed to capture video or sound recording of another person without their consent. 

Drones can be used recreationally and commercially in Colorado and are subject to FAA regulations and flight controls in place by local governments. Some municipalities in the state have local ordinances concerning drones, including Telluride and Denver. The city of Pueblo does not mention drones in its municipal code but does state “aircraft shall register in accordance with the procedures established by the FAA.” 

In Telluride, drone operators cannot fly over privately owned properties without prior approval or fly recklessly in a manner that could endanger people and wildlife. A local ordinance in Denver prohibits flying objects from Denver park facilities. 

According to the FAA Drone Response Playbook for Public Safety, drone usage is subject to local regulations, which may include trespassing on property, disorderly and unsafe conduct, impeding public safety operations and privacy and harassment laws. 

“In some of the videos, people are trying to hide from the drone or trying to stop it from following them, and the drone operator is persistent and follows individuals when they don’t want to be followed,” Alderman said. “It comes across as a bullying tactic.” 

Ortega told the Chieftain the department has heard of the drone incidents on social media but has not heard from anyone seeking to report the incidents as a crime. 

“This is an example of someone taking advantage of people who are in a really difficult position and using it for entertainment purposes,” Alderman said. “I don't understand why someone would both have the time and want to do that instead of providing assistance or services to these individuals.”

The city of Pueblo’s municipal code has a section on harassment, a Class 1 municipal offense. Ortega said the person behind the accounts could be in violation of the section’s second category, following a person in or about a public space, or category six, which is when a person “repeatedly insults, taunts, challenges or communicates with another in a manner intended to cause a reasonable person to feel fear, intimidation or annoyance.” 

However, a person experiencing such action must feel they are being harassed or annoyed by another person’s actions and report that to police. 

“I can’t answer definitively (whether it’s harassment) because I don’t have a victim telling me, 'This is what happened,' or 'This is how I feel,'” Ortega said. 

In 2020, the FAA fined a drone pilot from Philadelphia known as “Mikey” $182,004 after determining he violated FAA regulations 123 times. According to a report from The National Law Review, the FAA determined that the pilot committed violations under rule 107 by flying close to multiple buildings and structures, at night and over moving vehicles and people. It also found the drone operator did not have a remote pilot certification. 

“The FAA is always looking for people to make an example of,” Moss said. “I think this person is a prime candidate.” 

Chieftain reporter Anna Lynn Winfrey contributed to this report.

Chieftain reporter Josue Perez can be reached at JHPerez@gannett.comFollow him on Twitter @josuepwrites.

This article originally appeared on The Pueblo Chieftain: 'It's subhuman': Videos show Pueblo drone provoking unhoused people for social media

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