A 34-year-old man shot down a drone flying over a chicken processing plant in southern Minnesota, according to felony charges.
Travis D. Winters, of Butterfield, was charged in Watonwan County District Court with criminal damage to property and reckless discharge of a firearm in city limits in connection with the gunfire on May 8 in Butterfield.
The charges say the drone operator was outside Butterfield Foods and was asked by Winters and another man what he was doing.
The operator, identified by the County Attorney's Office as 32-year-old Eric Goldberg, of Milwaukie, Ore., replied that he was capturing images of chickens being slaughtered as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the criminal complaint.
Winters then fired his 12-gauge shotgun and downed the drone, which was valued at nearly $1,900, the charges said. The complaint said Goldberg followed Winters, who was holding the drone, into the plant and heard him say, "I shot the drone."
County Attorney Stephen Lindee said Winters did not explain what prompted his actions.
Winters, who was charged by summons and is due in court on June 23, said Tuesday that he disagrees with "quite a bit" of what the prosecution is alleging but declined to go into specifics.
Winters did say he is not a Butterfield employee but does contract work for the plant through his cargo and freight company, T&K Transport.
Lindee said he was unaware of why Goldberg decided to fly his drone over the plant, beyond what was explained in the complaint.
"It was just some idea he had to go do that," Lindee said.
Goldberg has his own business, Eric Goldberg Photographic Tour, based out of his suburban Portland, Ore., home. He could not be reached for comment.
Drones are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which recognizes them as aircraft. Some, however, are free of government oversight if they are not used for commercial purposes or if they are solely for recreational use and weigh less than 0.55 pounds including any attachments. Authorities have not disclosed whether Goldberg's drone required regulation.
Butterfield Foods is owned by Mankato-based Downs Food Group. The group's human resources director, David Ross, declined Tuesday to comment on the case.
More than five years ago, Butterfield Foods was the focus of an investigation by the Humane Society of the United States, which said it found that many chickens were ineffectively stunned before being killed, while others were still alive while being put into a tank of scalding water used in the de-feathering process.
An attorney for Butterfield said at the time the company adheres to standards for humane slaughter, and that on-site company and government observers ensured that.
The society's sting on Butterfield, which includes a video shot inside the plant, was undertaken by one of the organization's members who had worked at the plant for two months.
A society spokesman said Tuesday that his organization has no connection to this latest incident involving Butterfield Foods.