SLO County DA says decision sets a dangerous precedent

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge ruled Friday, Dec. 11, that the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office must recuse itself from prosecuting the Tianna Arata case.

Arata was charged with 13 misdemeanors in connection with a July 21 Black Lives Matter protest in San Luis Obispo. She appeared in court via live stream Friday morning.

Her attorney’s filed a motion that argued some of SLO County DA Dan Dow’s remarks publicly and on social media showed a bias against the Black Lives Matter movement. And due to this, he and his office should be recused from prosecuting the case.

According to published reports, Superior Court Judge Matthew Guerrero said, “The men and women charged here are entitled to a prosecution not clouded by political or personal advantage to the prosecutor. This is especially pointed in a case where the defendants are protesting injustice and systemic bias. The court’s finding of an apparent and actual conflict of interest make it unlikely that the defendants would receive fair treatment during all portions of the criminal proceedings.”

Getting through this together, Paso Robles

The case will be sent to the California State Attorney General’s Office.

San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow released the following statement Friday, Dec. 11, in response to Judge Guerrero’s decision.

“First, let me be clear I have deep respect for the judicial process and the judges who are called to make difficult decisions,” Dow stated

“With that in mind, I respectfully and strongly disagree with Judge Guerrero’s findings and decision to recuse the District Attorney from prosecuting criminal activity that occurred during this summer’s protests. The law is clear that in order for a district attorney to be recused there must be an actual conflict of interest and the conflict must be so grave as to render it unlikely that the defendant will receive fair treatment during all portions of the criminal proceedings.

“There is absolutely no conflict in this case. To the contrary. While I have been personally attacked on many occasions since the arrests in these cases, I have continued to conduct my duty in a manner that is above reproach without bending to popular opinion and public pressure. I am proud of the professionalism that our office has maintained under months of immense public pressure. We have thoroughly, fairly, and objectively reviewed volumes of evidence, conducted additional independent investigation, and made every decision based on the facts and the applicable law. We have never wavered from our steadfast commitment to ensure that every defendant receives fair treatment while we perform our important Constitutional duty.

“To recuse an elected district attorney who has been chosen by the voters of San Luis Obispo County to enforce the law in our community without any evidence of an actual conflict undermines the role and independent nature of an elected prosecutor and sets a dangerous precedent,” Dow stated.

During the July 21 protest, demonstrators allegedly blocked Highway 101 and police claimed some protesters committed acts of vandalism.

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.

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.

Six people — Robert Lastra Jr., Sam Grocott, Jerad Hill, Marcus Montgomery, Joshua Powell, and Amman Asfaw were charged Friday, Oct. 16, in connection to the protest on July 21. Lastra Jr. is from Atascadero.