Man who landed gyrocopter at Capitol pleads not guilty
Washington — A Florida man who flew a gyrocopter through some of America’s most restricted airspace before landing at the U.S. Capitol pleaded not guilty on Thursday to the six charges he faces.
Douglas Hughes, who took off from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, was arrested April 15 after he landed on the Capitol’s West Lawn in his bare-bones aircraft. Hughes has said he wanted to call attention to the influence of big money in politics.
Hughes appeared in federal court in Washington. A grand jury had indicted him on charges that carry up to 9½ years in prison, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia said.
“We are looking at a case where there was no injury and no property damage, and the requirements as far as what the prosecution is asking for include years of jail time. The penalties that they are demanding are not consistent with the damage,” Hughes said Wednesday in a phone interview after the grand jury indictment became public.
The charges Hughes now faces include two felonies: operating as an airman without an airman’s certificate and violating aircraft registration requirements. Those charges carry a maximum of three years in prison. He also faces three misdemeanor offences of violating national defense airspace, each carrying a maximum of one year in prison.
Hughes, 61, who had been employed as a postal carrier and lives in Ruskin, Florida, also faces a misdemeanor charge of operating a vehicle falsely labeled as postal carrier. The tail section of Hughes’ gyrocopter carried a Postal Service logo. That charge carries a statutory maximum of six months in prison.
The charges Hughes faces also carry potential fines. The indictment says that if he is convicted of one or both of the felonies, prosecutors will ask that a judge order him to forfeit the gyrocopter.
His next court appearance is scheduled for May 27.