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Undercover sheriff attending fresno peace meetings

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Last Updated: Oct 3, 2003

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) - A group of peace activists claims the Fresno County Sheriff has sent an undercover detective to its meetings.

Members of Peace Fresno say Aaron Kilner regularly attended its meetings, telling members who asked what he did for a living that he was independently wealthy.

Kilner, an undercover sheriff's detective, died in an off-duty motorcycle accident Aug. 30.

Fresno County Sheriff Richard Pierce would not say whether Kilner attended meetings, but he said Peace Fresno "was not and is not the subject of any investigation by the Fresno County Sheriff's Department."

Pierce said his department "does not have any reports, files, rosters or notes on Peace Fresno or its meetings."

However, in a four-paragraph statement issued Thursday, he defended his department's legal right to send undercover officers to community meetings.

"For the purpose of detecting or preventing terrorist activities, the Fresno County Sheriff's Department may visit any place and attend any event that is open to the public, on the same terms and conditions as members of the public generally."

As the nation considers the balance between security and personal liberties, members of Peace Fresno say an undercover officer at a political meeting brings the controversy close to home.

"The idea of anyone in Peace Fresno doing anything illegal is laughable," said the group's attorney, Catherine Campbell.

When Kilner died, his picture ran in the newspaper. In the story, the sheriff's department identified the 26 year old as a member of its anti-terrorism unit.

Camille Russell, then president of Peace Fresno, recognized the man, as did other members.

Kilner's mother, Debbie, said there was little chance that Kilner was attending Peace Fresno meetings out of personal interest.

"An undercover agent at the center for nonviolence, even if it's part of another investigation? Does that make me squirm? Yes. Is it illegal? Probably not," said Fresno attorney Patience Milrod.

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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