Attempts to dismiss federal charges against Dusan Fridl and Hemming Hemmingsen, each charged with illegally flying a helicopter owned by the Florence County Sheriff’s Office, fell shorton Friday afternoon.
Fridl and Hemmingsen could face up to 10 year-sentences on the charges and are scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 25. According to Circuit Court documents, the two men were arrested in April for operating a Bell OH58A helicopter, which they are accused of entering unlawfully and damaging or removing equipment.
The pilots are alleged to have flown the helicopter without the permission of the sheriff's office. At the time, the pilots were working under the jurisdiction of the Lake City Police Department, which owned the helicopter before it was acquired by the sheriff's office.
During the hearing, McLaughlin said the language in the indictments against his clients and the proceedings leading to the hearing have not allowed the defense pertinent information needed to conduct a fair trial.
He argued that indictments must include all witnesses called upon by a grand jury for testimony to allow the defendants the right to know who has testified against them. He said there are witnesses who testified to the grand jury who were not included in the indictments.
Circuit Court Judge Thomas Russo ruled against the motions and said that according to state law, the grand jury retains the right to call on witnesses as it likes, without subpoena.
McLaughlin also brought into question the lack of a preliminary hearing but Russo ruled that information that could have been obtained at such a hearing was already available.
Fridl and Hemmingsen helped the Lake City Police Department acquire the helicopter through the Department of Defense’s military surplus 1033 program.
The helicopter, now known as the Florence County Sheriff's Office Raptor 2, is the same model as Raptor 1 that the sheriff's office acquired through the same federal program and unveiled on April 14.
Information gathered by former Morning News reporter Gavin Jackson was included in this article.