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Gyrocopter Pilot Indicted on Six Charges

(Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

The Florida man who landed a gyrocopter on the Capitol lawn in April has been indicted by a federal grand jury and faces a maximum of nine-and-a-half years in prison.  

On April 15, Douglas Hughes of Ruskin, Fla., flew a gyrocopter from Gettysburg, Pa., and landed on the West Front of the Capitol, sparking questions about national security. Hughes worked as a mail carrier, had a Postal Service decal on the gyrocopter, and trekked to the Capitol to deliver letters to lawmakers relating to campaign finance. Now more than a month later, he has been indicted on six charges, including two felonies and four misdemeanors. The felonies include "one count each of operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate and violating registration requirements involving aircraft." The misdemeanor charges include violations of national defense airspace and operating a falsely labeled United States Postal Service vehicle.  

Hughes was promptly arrested in D.C., and was later released and returned to Florida and placed under house arrest. He is barred from returning to the District except for his court appearance. Hughes was originally expected to appear in court on May 8, but the hearing was postponed. Hughes is now scheduled to appear for his arraignment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Thursday.  

U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Vincent H. Cohen Jr., U.S. Capitol Police Chief Kim C. Dine, and U.S. Postal Service Inspector General David C. Williams announced the indictment Wednesday.  

Just a few hours before, Dine faced questions about the incident during a hearing with the House Administration Committee regarding Capitol security, where he was the sole witness.  

The hearing was sparked, in part, by the gyrocopter incident. Dine acknowledged Capitol Police had advance notice that an aircraft might be on its way, but said police did not have specific information to indicate the landing was imminent.  

"This guy was live-streaming his flight," pointed out House Administration Chairwoman Candice S. Miller. She and other members of the panel asked multiple times why no one from the department was watching.  

"Well, we attempted to tune in but we had no luck," Dine said, emphasizing that there was an "investigative effort" underway as Hughes landed to figure out who the Florida mailman was.

"My concern is that most criminals don't telegraph the date and time of the criminal activity that they are going to engage in. This gentleman came as close to doing that as you can," said Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Miss., who wanted to know more about how law enforcement agencies share information.

The incident raised other questions about airspace security, and Capitol Police training. Harper asked for a follow-up on how Capitol Police might prepare for a "drone threat."

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