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Questions Raised on Use of Fresno Air Guard Surveillance Plane Over Wealthy Suburb

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A recent report by the U.S. Air Force has raised questions about the use of a specialized surveillance plane from Fresno’s Air National Guard base in response to false allegations of looting and rioting in an affluent California suburb last summer.

On June 1, in the El Dorado Hills area of Sacramento, a local woman posted on social media that “Car loads of rioters are hitting the neighborhoods and businesses NOW!!!” Five people then called the El Dorado County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Sacramento Bee.

There was no evidence that the group was doing anything close to rioting.

Yet, by nightfall, dozens of National Guard troops, along with military vehicles, parked themselves in front of the Holiday Inn Express, according to the Mountain Democrat. We decided to take a proactive measure,” Sgt. Anthony Prencipe, a spokesman for the EDSO, told NBC News in September.

Two days later, an RC-26B surveillance aircraft — the only one of its kind in the state, and just one of 11 that exist nationwide — was dispatched from the 144th Fighter Wing from Fresno.

The operation took place in the days following the death of George Floyd in police custody, when large-scale protests were being held across the country.

The alleged “rioters” turned out to be a group of young, Black entrepreneurs led by 22-year-old Malachi J. Turner, who grew up in nearby Rocklin. He was leading a group of people on a walking tour of El Dorado Hills, showing people how to “envision” a life for themselves in such a wealthy area.

The aerial surveillance operations was so unusual that it was specifically called out in a 75-page report released in August by the Air Force’s Office of the Inspector General, the internal watchdog agency.

The report found the National Guard made some serious missteps in its utilization of the reconnaissance aircraft.

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