Trooper Brandon Uhl is a member of the Capitol building security team and the drone pilot for MHP’s special response team. It was the latter role which led to his participation in the manhunt of Steven Drury, who was wanted on a $50,000 warrant out of Idaho’s Clark County for amphetamine trafficking.
“I knew they were getting a helicopter up and I knew that had some limitations,” Uhl said. “Weather eventually made it unsafe to have a manned aircraft up so that justified the use of the drone.”
Nelson said MHP knew the suspect was in the area with people nearby and they’d been told that he was armed and possibly had explosives. Suspecting a potential ambush, MHP used the drone’s thermal camera to locate the suspect and his vehicle, which had become lodged in the snow. Uhl said he used the drone to gradually clear the area allowing MHP’s response team to push up.
Eventually, they wanted the suspect to know they were coming and Uhl flew the drone to directly above his dashboard window and flashed a strobe light at the suspect. Drury was ultimately apprehended without incident.
“That real-time info gave our guys instant situational awareness,” Uhl said. “I’d call that a major success.”
Though the Clancy manhunt was by-and-large the most high-profile instance of drones being used to ensure the safety of troopers, the drones have been deployed in a number of other situations, displaying their versatility in the process. Nelson cited a search-and-rescue operation in Great Falls last year in which a drone’s thermal optics were used to search an area to great effect. Additionally, Nelson cited a homicide in Fairfield where six hours of flight time were logged surveying the crime scene. According to Nelson, the drone allowed them to survey the entire scene with as few people as possible on site and minimized the potential for disturbing any evidence.