SLO County DA Dow responds to allegations by SLO City Mayor Harmon

SAN LUIS OBISPO — Six people were charged Friday, Oct. 16, in connection to a Black Live Matter protest in San Luis Obispo back on July 21.

On Friday, charges were filed against Robert Lastra Jr., Sam Grocott, Jerad Hill, Marcus Montgomery, Joshua Powell, and Amman Asfaw, according to multiple published reports.

During the July 21 protest, the protest moved out onto Highway 101 and police claimed some protesters committed vandalism acts.

Lastra Jr., 21, was arrested in Atascadero, and is believed to have thrown a skateboard at a silver BMW, breaking its back window, during the protest.

Lastra Jr. and Hill were charged with suspicion of false imprisonment and felony vandalism. Grocott faces three charges of suspicion of false imprisonment. Montgomery was charged with suspicion of false imprisonment, obstructing a person’s free movement and resisting or delaying a peace officer. Powell was charged with suspicion of resisting or delaying a peace officer. Asfaw was charged with suspicion of false imprisonment.

Asfaw, Montgomery, and Powell are all Black. Asfaw was recently elected Chair of the City of SLO’s new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force.

The arrests were decried in an open letter by San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, who called out San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow.

According to published reports, Harmon wrote: “The D.A. is enforcing the systemic suppression of community activism here in SLO and it sends a message: you are not safe to protest or to vote or to belong-if your skin isn’t white. I am here to say: NO. Not on my watch. Your Jim Crow tactics will not stand here in SLO. And we, the people of SLO, will not stand idle while our young people are being played like pawns for political gain.”

Dow responded Monday, stating Harmon, who is up for reelection, used this to prop up her campaign.

“It has come to my attention that a local incumbent mayoral candidate pulled a political campaign stunt over the weekend by using my name and office to make preposterous false allegations,” Dow stated. “The mayoral candidate’s campaign stunt, intended to help her political fundraising, was untruthful as it intentionally misstated facts and fabricated allegations for political purposes. I am proud of the tireless work of my office to protect the people of our county through aggressive and fair prosecution of crime and protecting the rights of crime victims.

“It is the duty of the district attorney’s office to thoroughly review every investigation to determine if the evidence proves that a crime was committed. We perform that duty every day without regard to individual characteristics such as race, color, religion, sex, national origin or political viewpoint. The mayoral candidate’s dangerous and divisive rhetoric seeks to stir more unrest rather than promote peace and healing in our community. I will never compromise the integrity of this office by using race or public opinion to decide whether or not to file a criminal charge. My decisions will always be based on the evidence and the law,” Dow stated.

Protest organizer Tianna Arata was arrested on the night of July 21. She faces 13 misdemeanor counts, including obstruction of a thoroughfare, false imprisonment, unlawful assembly, and disturbing the peace.

Arata appeared in court in September. She did not enter a plea. She is scheduled to be back in court on Thursday, Oct. 22. Her defense team says the charges against her are unconstitutional.

On July 21, protester Elias Bautista was also arrested. He has pleaded not guilty to charges of resisting an executive officer and resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer.

Arata, Montgomery, Powell, and Asfaw have a court hearing scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 22. A protest is planned outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse that morning.

Lastra, Grocott, and Hill are due in court on Nov. 16.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles