Local Black Lives Matter activist 20-year-old Tianna Arata was arrested on five felony counts and three misdemeanors after participating in a protest on July 21. Arata has not yet been officially charged with any crimes and awaits a decision from the District Attorney.
Arata, who has been recognized in the San Luis Obispo community as a champion of the Black Lives Matter movement, organized the protest, which took place at 4 p.m. at Mitchell Park.
Arata had established communication with San Luis Obispo Police (SLOPD) Chief Deanna Cantrell prior to the event to ensure the protest was peaceful, according to a press release from SLOPD.
Around 7 p.m., protesters moved from the downtown area onto the freeway, causing a traffic blockade on Highway 101 that lasted for about one hour.
One motorist, who attempted to maneuver around the blockade, ended up hitting protester Sam Grocott. From there, the event escalated as other protesters smashed the vehicle’s windows in an attempt to stop the driver, according to Grocott.
Protesters later returned to Mitchell Park at 7:30 p.m. where they continued their march until dispersing at 8 p.m.
Around that time, SLOPD identified and arrested Arata on four felony counts of false imprisonment, one felony count of conspiracy as well as three misdemeanor counts of resisting arrest, unlawful assembly and participating in a riot. She was then booked into the San Luis Obispo County Jail that night and was released hours later around 1 a.m.
The charges were recommended by SLOPD and were sent in a report to the District Attorney’s office, which will consider the case.
— Sarah Baska (@SarahBaska) August 10, 2020
A petition demanding District Attorney Dan Dow to drop the charges against Arata has garnered over 381,000 signatures as of Thursday, August 13. Her story has gained national attention and was featured in national media outlets such as Cosmopolitan and Complex.
Arata has received attention from Black Lives Matter co-founder Patrisse Cullors, who posted an Instagram photo on Friday featuring the Free Tianna Coalition, a community organization which demands the charges against her be dropped. She has also received support from prominent civil rights lawyer Lee Merritt, who is representing the family of Ahmaud Arbery, the 25-year-old victim who was pursued and fatally shot by three men while jogging earlier this year.
Many on social media questioned why Arata was seemingly singled out, arrested and ultimately held responsible for the actions of other protesters, with some suggesting her arrest was an intimidation tactic used by police to discourage protests.
However, much of the information spread online, which claims Arata faces 15 years in prison, is incorrect and misleading.
Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said that Arata has not been charged with any crime at this point, and the charges are simply a recommendation.
“What I think the individual who did the miscalculation of 15 years did was to simply add up [all the charges],” Dobroth said. “However, criminal law sentencing is in fact much more complex than that.”
Dobroth emphasized that the eight charges for Arata’s arrest are simply recommendations from the police, and he he said it is more difficult to file a case on these charges.
“The probable cause standard for arrest is substantially different than the beyond a reasonable doubt standard for filing a criminal case,” Dobroth said.
The District Attorney’s office is currently conducting a review of Arata’s case to determine what charges will be filed against her, if any.
“People are rushing to judgement in the fact that if charges are filed, [Arata] will be convicted, and if she is convicted, that she will receive the maximum sentence,” Dobroth said.
Despite the circulation of the petition demanding Arata’s charges be dropped, the office cannot do so until the case is reviewed, and “public pressure for a particular outcome will not be considered in making a charging decision,” according to a statement released Monday from the District Attorney’s office.
Arata’s court date is scheduled for Sept. 3 in the San Luis Obispo County Superior Court. The District Attorney’s office expects to reach a decision on whether charges will be filed against Arata before then, according to a statement from District Attorney Dan Dow.
Arata did not immediately respond to requests for comment.