San Luis Obispo District Attorney (DA) Dan Dow has been removed from Tianna Arata’s case due to a conflict of interest.
Arata was arrested on the night of July 21 for coordinating and participating in a Black Lives Matter protest. She was charged on Sept. 3 with 13 misdemeanors: five counts of false imprisonment, six counts of obstruction of a thoroughfare, one count of unlawful assembly and one count of disturbing the peace by loud noise.
Three men in their 20’s who also participated in the July 21 protest, Amman Asfaw, Marcus Montgomery and Joshua Powell, were added to Arata’s case on Oct. 15. Because they were added to Arata’s case, they will also no longer be prosecuted by the San Luis Obispo District Attorney’s Office.
“I appreciated the professionalism of all the briefing and the arguments yesterday, these are very difficult topics,” presiding Judge Matthew Guerrero said. “The court of course has to set aside any relationships that the court has with any of the parties and make these rulings based upon the law and the facts as the court finds them.”
In Arata’s Dec. 11 court hearing, Guerrero said that an email sent by Dow and his wife on Sept. 4 requesting fundraising support established a clear conflict of interest with the case.
The email, sent a day after charges were filed against Arata, used terms such as “anarchist” and “whacky” in regards to the movement requesting to defund the police, which is tied to the Black Lives Matter protests that resulted in Arata’s arrest. Guerrero said that these words could sway potential jurors and jeopardize Arata’s right to a fair trial.
The email also sought political and professional benefits through campaign contributions which were related to Arata’s case, Guerrero said.
Because of these reasons, Dow has been removed from the case and the California Attorney General will now have the option to prosecute the case. Attorney General Xavier Becerra can choose to prosecute Arata’s case, or he can drop the charges against her and the others involved in the case.
“The men and women charged here are entitled to a prosecution not clouded by political or personal advantage to the prosecutor,” Guerrero said. “This is especially pointed in a case where the defendants are protesting injustice and systemic bias.”
At the hearing, Guerrero also denied the defendant’s request of a gag order on the California Highway Patrol and San Luis Obispo Police Department. The defendants requested the gag order due to both departments releasing false narratives and prejudicially information regarding the case on social media, according to the defendant’s claims.
The request was denied because it did not meet any of the requirements for a gag order to be established.
Guerrero also denied their motion for a demurrer, which is a plea entry that argues that the facts of the case do not justify legal action. Since it was denied, Arata, as well as the other protestors charged under the case, plead not guilty.
Arata’s defense was granted their motion to compel, which asks the court to enforce a request for information about how the District Attorney’s Office determined who to charge in the case. Guerrero said that Arata’s attorney’s request was too broad, though, and are limited to police and California Highway Patrol referrals to the DA’s office and other documentation from the decision making process of who to charge.
Arata will appear in court again on Dec. 14 for a trial setting conference. Although the case will now be prosecuted by the California Attorney General’s Office, it will continue to be addressed in the San Luis Obispo Superior Court.