The arrest of Rodney Brossart came after six cows wandered onto his 3,000-acre farm in Lakota in June, and the anti-government "sovereignist" believed he should have been able to keep the cows, U.S. News & World Report reported.
Brossart and two family members chased police off his land with high-powered rifles and after a 16-hour standoff, the SWAT team from the Grand Forks police department, which had a search warrant, used the unmanned drone to determine Brossart's location.
The SWAT team, which has an agreement with the U.S. Homeland Security Department to use the unmanned vehicle, arrested Brossart on charges including terrorizing a sheriff, theft and criminal mischief, documents show.
Brossart said he believes the SWAT team's use of the drone was "definitely" illegal.
"We're dealing with it; we've got a couple different motions happening in court fighting [the drone use]," said Brossart, who's scheduled to appear in court April 30.
Brossart's attorney did not return repeated calls.
Douglas Manbeck, representing the state of North Dakota in the case, said the SWAT team used the drone after warrants had been issued.
The drone, he said, "was only used to help assure there weren't weapons and to make [the arrest] safer for both the Brossarts and law enforcement."
"I know it's a touchy subject for anyone to feel that drones are in the air watching them, but I don't think there was any misuse in this case."
John Villasenor, an expert on information gathering and drone use with the Washington-based Brookings Institution, said he doubts the court will throw out the case. Using a drone, he said, is no different than using a helicopter.
"It may have been the first time a drone was used to make an arrest, but it's certainly not going to be the last," Villasenor said.
On May 14, the government is to begin issuing permits for drone use by law enforcement.
About 300 law enforcement agencies and research institutions now have temporary licenses from the Federal Aviation Administration to use drones.