Homemade Drug Drone Crashes At Arizona Prison

By Keri Blakinger 11/20/17

Investigators are still trying to figure out the origin of the drug-filled drone before its crash-landing.

man flying a drone outside

A homemade drone carrying drugs crash-landed in an Arizona prison yard—but authorities still haven’t figured out who sent it. 

The badly botched delivery of cell phones and illicit substances soared over the Arizona State Prison Complex-Lewis in Buckeye in September and fell into a secure zone only accessible to corrections officers, according to The Arizona Republic.

The payload included two cell phones bundled up with freezer bags of pot and wrapped in an orange sweatshirt, officials said. 

But it wasn’t immediately clear who sent the illicit payload, so investigators shipped it off to the state crime lab for fingerprinting.

According to authorities, this was the first known incident of a drug drone being dropped at an Arizona state prison, but it certainly wasn’t the first such hoosegow delivery. 

In 2015, a drug-laden drone sparked a rec yard brawl at an Ohio prison, as The Fix previously reported. That summer, a drone carrying pot, heroin and tobacco dropped its payload into the Mansfield Correctional Institution recreation area. 

Officials didn’t immediately notice the contraband drop-off, but they did spot the fight, which drew officers with pepper spray to the rec yard. Guards searched 200 inmates and tossed nine in solitary, but didn’t find out about the drone until they reviewed security footage of the melee. They tracked down the package where it had been stashed in the rec yard equipment room. 

Months earlier, a drone with synthetic marijuana and a cellphone charger was found inside a South Carolina prison rec yard. That same month, guards at another South Carolina prison found a crashed drone carrying pot, tobacco and a cellphone. 

Earlier this year, an even more ambitious drug-smuggling effort made headlines after a 25-year-old man was arrested for allegedly using a drone to fly more than 13 pounds of meth in from Mexico, according to the Associated Press.

Border Patrol in San Diego spotted the drone as it flew near the border. After it landed, agents found a man hiding in bushes with a lunchbox full of meth.

Overall, drones aren’t a particularly popular method of international drug trafficking because they can’t carry a large enough payload, according to the DEA. Also, the attention-attracting noise and short battery life can be problematic for international flying.

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Keri Blakinger is a former drug user and current reporter living in Texas. She covers breaking news for the Houston Chronicle and previously worked for the New York Daily News and the Ithaca Times. She has written about drugs and criminal justice for the Washington Post, Salon, Quartz and more. She loves dogs and is not impressed by rodeo food. Find Keri on LinkedIn and Twitter.