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Army: 'Shortcomings' uncovered in use of helicopters at 2020 protest

Marchers protest the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd during a demonstration in front of the White House on Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington D.C. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested over the weekend after clashing with police and defying curfews in numerous major U.S. cities. File photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI
Marchers protest the Minnesota police killing of George Floyd during a demonstration in front of the White House on Monday, June 1, 2020, in Washington D.C. Thousands of demonstrators were arrested over the weekend after clashing with police and defying curfews in numerous major U.S. cities. File photo by Tasos Katopodis/UPI | License Photo

April 15 (UPI) -- An Army investigation released Wednesday found that a "systematic lack of understanding" led to the National Guard's use of low-flying helicopters during demonstrations in Capitol One Arena in June 2020.

Maj. Gen. William Walker, commander of the Washington, D.C., Guard, launched a fact-finding investigation after reports surfaced of D.C. Guard medical evacuation helicopters hovering over the crowd during racial justice protests June 1.

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The investigation found "several organizational, resource and oversight shortcomings," the Army said Wednesday in a news release. The use of medical evacuation helicopters was not prohibited by federal law or Army regulations, and the decisions to use the helicopters in support of civil disturbance operations "were reasonable given the emergent nature of the situation," the statement said.

The investigation report recommended the Army review regulatory guidance to "ensure aviation support to civil disturbance operations is appropriately addressed," the Army's release said.

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The release also said the Army "immediately began implementing corrective actions related to the planning, training, equipping, command and control, oversight, and orders processes for the integration of D.C. National Guard aviation assets into civil disturbance operations."

"The National Guard is uniquely qualified to assist civil authorities; I am proud of the support they provided this nation over the past year. We are refining our regulations to ensure their success in the future," John E. Whitley, acting secretary of the Army, said in the release.

During a background briefing reported on by military.com and CNN, an unnamed official said the use of the helicopters "was not prohibited by law or policy" but that there was a "very general lack of understanding" of how to use helicopters in civil disturbances.

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The official said the pilots and others involved were not considered to have engaged in misconduct.

The official said Army Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Joseph Martin "will [take] or has taken appropriate administrative action against a number of individuals involved in the set of circumstances," but did not release the officers' identities or the actions taken against them.

The Army said one helicopter "hovered under 100 feet." The Washington Post reported heights as low as 45 feet.

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