A Houston man was indicted on charges accusing him of trying to use a heavy-duty drone to drop a bag of forbidden items to inmates at a federal prison in Texas, authorities announced Tuesday.
Federal officials unsealed an indictment charging Davien Philip Turner with two counts of unlawfully flying an aircraft. Each count is punishable by up to three years in prison.
At a news conference in Beaumont, U.S. Attorney Britt Featherston said there was no evidence that Turner succeeded in delivering contraband with his drone, but there have been cases of such items being dropped from drones into the federal prison complex south of Beaumont.
Photos displayed during the news conference showed Turner is accused of trying to deliver wire cutters and other tools, as well as money, cellphones, cellphone chargers, and bulk amounts of tobacco.
This is the third federal case involving smuggling attempts by drones to be charged in the United States, and the first in Texas, Featherston said.
“Around the country, drones use in smuggling into prisons has been on the rise,” Featherston said.
A multi-agency investigation of the use of drones to deliver contraband to prisons continues, he said.
The Biden administration has called on Congress to expand authority for federal and local governments to take action to counter these and other nefarious uses of drones, which are a growing security concern and nuisance.
Turner was to remain jailed without bond pending a Thursday detention hearing, according to court records. A message left for Turner's federal public defender was not immediately returned.
Violence at the Beaumont prison, including a Jan. 31 gang fight that left two inmates dead and two others injured, led to a nationwide lockdown of federal prisons. Seven inmates who are members of the MS-13 gang were charged with attacking and killing members of the Mexican Mafia and its affiliate, the Sureños, prosecutors said.
Before that, security measures at the minimum- and medium-security section of the complex had become so lax that local law enforcement officials privately joked about its seemingly “open-door policy.” An inspector general's report prompted officials to build a fence around the prison, repair broken door alarms, add and upgrade video cameras, and install additional lights.