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Judge disqualifies SLO County DA from prosecuting Tiana Arrata case

Angel Russell/KCBX
Show here at a rally in August, Tiana Arata faces criminal charges stemming from a July BLM demonstration in SLO.

A San Luis Obispo County superior court judge ruled Friday the county district attorney’s office is disqualified from prosecuting local Black Lives Matter organizer Tiana Arrata and six others.

Because the judge found a “clear conflict of interest,” District Attorney Dan Dow and his office is now disqualified from further prosecuting a criminal case against Arrata and other BLM protestors, because Dow “sought political and professional benefit and campaign contributions in conjunction with the prosecution,” of Arrata and the other defendants’ cases, according to court records.

In a granted motion to disqualify, Judge Matthew Guerrero lists several instances of Dow publicly airing his views and displaying ‘animosity’ to the Black Lives Matter movement. He ultimately found Arrata and defendants Marcus Montegomery, Amman Asfaw, Joshua Powell, Robert Lastra, Sam Frocott and Dylan Hill would not be able to receive fair treatment during all portions of the criminal proceedings.

Speaking to KCBX on Friday afternoon, Arata’s SLO attorney Patrick Fisher said, “the centerpiece of the Black Lives Matter movement is that the BLM are tired of white America and our American institutions ignoring racism. Black Lives Matter is just trying to get people to stop and listen, and today the judge showed them he's listening."

"It was so good for those activists, the validation from our court today," Fisher said.

Dan Dow sent out a statement after the ruling, saying while he holds deep respect for the judicial process and judges facing difficult decision, he disagrees with the decision and stated, “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...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.”

Fisher countered those statement, saying “as a member of our community, not just as a defense attorney, it's been troubling to see how politized our district attorneys office has become,” and that today’s decision sent a message that “our courts are not going to tolerate prosecutorial decisions being made with political motivations."

It’s now up to the state attorney general’s office whether to continue prosecuting the cases. KCBX reached out to the California Attorney General’s office for comment on whether the case against Arrata will be going forward.

“We're reviewing the decision and we'll follow up when there's anything further we can provide,” said a AG spokesperson. “For awareness, the parties return to court on December 15 for further proceedings.”

Angel Russell is a former KCBX News reporter who started her career in journalism as a reporter and producer for KREX on Colorado's Western Slope; she later moved to the Central Coast to work for KSBY as weekend anchor and weekday reporter. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, and playing guitar and piano.
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