IONIA, MI – Police arrested three suspects who allegedly used a drone to drop a cell phone and drugs into a prison.
The incident happened around 4 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at the Richard A. Handlon Correctional Facility in Ionia.
Two corrections officers heard the sound of a drone in the prison yard and began to investigate. Soon, the drone dropped a package near a housing unit, then left.
The officers responded to the area where the contraband was delivered. The drone then returned and dropped another package in that same area where corrections officers were gathered.
Prison officials contacted police who stopped a vehicle near the prison. The three suspects in the car were arrested.
“Drones present a serious and constant threat to our prisons across the state,” Heidi Washington, director of the state Department of Corrections, said in a statement.
“I am proud of the prompt and professional response of our staff and for the support and coordination with local law enforcement and the Michigan State Police to apprehend these individuals. Together, their actions kept not only our facility, staff and prisoners safe, but the surrounding community as well.”
State police helped prison staff and members of its Emergency Response Team conduct a search of the prison grounds and areas around the facility.
Prison officials said this was one of the few times in the country that suspects using drones were arrested immediately after bringing contraband in a prison.
Washington said prison officials would continue to work with lawmakers to “strengthen laws regarding drones and their ability to introduce dangerous contraband into our prisons.”
Prisons spokesman Chris Gautz said drones have twice been used to bring contraband into prisons but the drone flyers were not found. He said that the three who were arrested were relatively close to prison fences.
It was uncertain if the drone operator was flying based on GPS coordinates, visually or by camera on the drone.
Prison officials are working to determine the identity of planned recipient of the contraband, Gautz said.
He said that staff are trained to look for drones.
“This is taken seriously. It’s a serious enough crime you could find yourself in (prison) someday. It’s a very dangerous thing to do.”
Cell phones are highly sought items in prison.
Gautz said that state police are investigating to determine what drugs were dropped into the prison yard. Because drugs such as fentanyl can cause harm merely by touching the substance, they are sent to a state police crime lab for identification.