Skip to main content
Press Release

Laser Strikes on Kern County Sheriff Helicopter Lead to Prison Sentence

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. — Richard Earl Francis, 51, of Bakersfield, was sentenced today to one month in prison in addition to the 71 days already served to be followed by 11 months home detention and 36 months of supervised release for knowingly aiming the beam of a laser pointer at a Kern County Sheriff’s Office helicopter, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court documents, on July 28, 2022, while the sheriff’s helicopter was patrolling the Oildale area of Bakersfield, Francis shined a bright green laser into the cockpit of the aircraft four times. One of the airmen experienced temporary loss of vision in his right eye as a result of the laser. On Dec. 13, 2022, Francis pleaded guilty to knowingly aiming a laser at an aircraft.

In 2022, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) received 9,457 reports of laser strikes. In 2022, there were, on average, three laser strike incidents reported every month in Bakersfield. Noting the hazards of lasers in navigable airspace, the FAA advises that, when aimed at an aircraft, lasers can cause visual interference and incapacitate pilots. Such incidents can occur anywhere but have been reported most frequently in the Western Pacific and Southern regions of the United States. See Laser Hazards in Navigable Airspace.”

This case was the product of an investigation by the FBI, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office, and the Bakersfield Police Department. Assistant U.S. Attorney Karen Escobar prosecuted the case.

Updated April 10, 2023