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National Guard pilot grounded amid probe into helicopter flying over DC protesters

The Department of Defense said Friday it had grounded one of the National Guard helicopter pilots who performed low-flying maneuvers to disperse crowds of protesters in Washington, D.C., on Monday evening, according to multiple reports.

Army Secretary Ryan McCarthyRyan McCarthyArmy secretary responds to news reports on sexual assault allegations in military: 'we must do better' OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Esper reportedly working with lawmakers to strip Confederate names from bases | Enemy attacks in Afghanistan jump by 50 percent, watchdog says | Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing Fort Hood soldier arrested, charged in Chelsea Cheatham killing MORE told reporters that the helicopter crew was grounded pending results from an internal investigation, according to local CBS affiliate WUSA9. A Pentagon spokesman told the outlet that the move was standard procedure during such investigations.

The aircraft was one of two Army National Guard helicopters that hovered between 100 and 300 feet above the streets of the District on Monday night, according to an aircraft tracker. Gusts from their helicopter blades were aimed at dispersing crowds of protesters.

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Maj. Gen. William Walker, the commanding general of the D.C. National Guard, said in a statement on Wednesday that he had "directed an immediate investigation into the June 1 incident."

"I hold all members of the District of Columbia National Guard to the highest of standards," Walker said. "We live and work in the District, and we are dedicated to the service of our nation." 

The New York Times reported Saturday that top Pentagon officials ordered the Guard pilots to perform the low-flying maneuver called "persistent presence." The paper said McCarthy was one of the officials who authorized a portion of the planning for the helicopters' operations on Monday.

Eyewitnesses on the scene said the force of the helicopters' rotor blades caused debris to stir in the streets, even causing some tree limbs to break and nearly hit bystanders, according to the Times.

Videos circulated on social media showed red and white cross markings on an unarmed Lakota aircraft, indicating its affiliation with medical responses.

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Human Rights Watch said in a report that "the emblem is a universally recognized symbol of medical aid and is protected under the Geneva Conventions."

"Its misuse is prohibited under the conventions and it has no place in a 'show of force' or to forcibly disperse protesters," the organization said.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden adds to vote margin over Trump after Milwaukee County recount Krebs says allegations of foreign interference in 2020 election 'farcical'  Republicans ready to become deficit hawks again under a President Biden MORE ordered the activation of the D.C. National Guard to quell protesters amid ongoing demonstrations in the city, and the Guard previously said it was considering the use of a UH-72 medical evacuation helicopter in the Joint Task Force D.C. operation, WUSA9 noted.