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SLO City Council discusses use of tear gas at BLM protest

Angel Russell
Due to public comment resulting in the meeting going over 11 p.m., the city council will continue discussion of the reports findings Tuesday, Feb 23. 2021

During a Feb. 16 meeting, San Luis Obispo City council discussed findings of a recent After-Action Report about a June Black Lives Matter protest where San Luis Obispo Police used tear gas on the crowd.

The City of San Luis Obispo is still grappling with fallout from the summer standoff between BLM protestors and police.

Interim Police Chief, Jeff Smith, defended the department’s use of force.

“We never enter an event where we want to use force," Smith said. "The events that occurred on June 1, I’m sorry that they happened. I wish they would not have, and I wish we would have been able to come to a resolution that ended differently.”

The After-Action Report details how the situation unfolded and identifies changes law enforcement should consider.

The report's recommendations included the need for replaceable batteries for officers’ body cameras—many of which died during the protest interactions; limiting the number of officers in tactical gear at peaceful protests; and better PA systems so directions to the crowd can be heard loud and clear.

Tianna Arata, who is facing criminal charges stemming from the protest, called in during public comment.

“I just think it’s utterly ridiculous how there is no accountability for the police," Arata said. "The SLOPD has ruined my life, and continues to try and criminalize me and I’m over it.”

Mayor Heidi Harmon questioned Interim Police Chief Smith as to why tear gas was deployed at all when protestors hadn’t tried to break police lines.

“To me, that seems like a problem," Harmon said. "That seems like a disconnect from the plan and the intention, and potentially the policies to not utilize gas unless they actively broke the line, which never happened.”

Smith said the decision came down to safety concerns for the officers.

“We can’t wait until they break the line to deploy gas and expose Officers," Smith said. "At some point, we did have individuals who got behind our line, which created more complexity during the evening.”

At 11:00 p.m. the council agreed to continue the discussion to Tuesday, Feb. 23.

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.