Man facing felony charges after flying drone over AFC Championship game in Baltimore

06 February 2024- A federal criminal complaint has been filed charging Matthew Hebert, age 44, of Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, on federal felony charges related to his flying a drone over M&T Bank stadium during the National Football League’s AFC Championship game in Baltimore on January 28, 2024. 

The federal charges were announced by United States Attorney for the District of Maryland Erek L. Barron; Acting Special Agent in Charge R. Joseph Rothrock of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), Baltimore Field Office; Acting Special Agent in Charge Thomas Neighbors of the U.S. Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, Mid-Atlantic Regional Office; and Colonel Roland L. Butler, Jr., Superintendent of the Maryland State Police (“MSP”).

“Illegally operating drones poses a significant security risk that will lead to federal charges,” said United States Attorney Erek L. Barron, “Temporary flight restrictions are always in place during large sporting events.”

“Operating a drone requires users to act responsibly and educate themselves on when and how to use them safely,” said Acting Special Agent in Charge R. Joseph Rothrock of the FBI’s Baltimore Field Office. “The FBI would like to remind the public of the potential dangers of operating a drone in violation of federal laws and regulations.  The reckless operation of a UAS in the vicinity of a large crowd can be dangerous to the public, as well as interfere with other law enforcement and security operations.”

According to the affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, on January 28, 2024, the Federal Aviation Administration had put in place a temporary flight restriction (“TFR”) for M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore during the National Football League (“NFL”) AFC Championship game, which precluded the flight of any UAS, including flying a UAS under the Exception for Recreational Flyers. A TFR temporarily restricts certain aircraft, including an UAS, from operating within a three nautical mile radius of the stadium. This is a standard practice for stadiums or sporting venues where a regular or postseason Major League Baseball, NFL, or NCAA Division One Game is occurring; or a NASCAR Cup, Indy Car, or Champ Series Race is occurring.  The TFR goes into effect one hour before the scheduled start time and lasts until one hour after the end of a qualifying event.

During the game on January 28, 2024, the incursion of an unidentified and unapproved drone was deemed a serious enough threat that NFL Security temporarily suspended the game. MSP Troopers tracked the movement of the drone directly over the stadium and deployed to the area where the drone landed in the 500 block of South Sharp Street in Baltimore. FBI agents traveled to that location and assisted MSP Troopers. Hebert was located at that location and spoke with law enforcement.

Hebert advised law enforcement that he purchased a DJI UAS in 2021 and used the DJI account to operate the drone. The drone was not registered, nor did Hebert possess a Remote Pilot certificate to operate it. As detailed in the affidavit, on past occasions, the DJI application prevented him from operating the UAS due to flight restrictions and Hebert relied exclusively on the DJI application to tell him if he was not allowed to fly the UAS. The affidavit alleges that on January 28, 2024, Hebert assumed he was allowed to fly his UAS since the DJI application did not prevent him from doing so. Hebert allegedly flew the drone approximately 100 meters or higher for approximately two minutes. According to the affidavit, while in flight, Hebert captured approximately six photos of himself and the Stadium and may have taken a video as well. 

If convicted, Hebert faces a maximum sentence of three years in federal prison for knowingly operating an unregistered UAS and for knowingly serving as an airman without an airman’s certificate. Hebert faces a maximum of one year in federal prison for willfully violating United States National Defense Airspace. Actual sentences for federal crimes are typically less than the maximum penalties. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors. An initial appearance and arraignment will be scheduled later this month.

A criminal complaint is not a finding of guilt. An individual charged by criminal complaint is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty at some later criminal proceedings.