Vandalism victim? Video of SLO march shows vehicle driving into protestors

Jul 23, 2020

The San Luis Obispo Police Department has released drone video footage of a Tuesday night Black Lives Matter protest, asking for information about a vehicle the department says was struck and damaged by one of the protest organizers as it was "attempting to leave the area."

But SLO PD doesn't mention the video shows the vehicle driving into protestors before speeding away.

Instead, police are calling the vehicle and its driver a “vandalism victim” when it was “struck by protest organizer Tianna Arata during the march.”

Arata was arrested as the protest ended about 8:30 pm Tuesday evening, charged on five counts, including suspicion of participation in a riot.

The demonstration by an estimated group of 300 people began in the late afternoon at Mitchell Park, and after circulating through downtown, the group headed onto Highway 101, shutting down traffic in both directions for about an hour before returning to downtown and Mitchell Park.

A press release issued by the police department Tuesday night at 11 p.m. described events during the protest differently from eyewitnesses.

“Protesters stopped and surrounded a vehicle...before moving toward downtown and returning to Mitchell Park. Some individuals were also observed chasing down and throwing objects at a vehicle,” the release said. “While on the freeway protesters damaged the hood of a passenger vehicle and smashed the rear window where a 4 year-old child was in the back seat and had glass shattered on him.”

On Wednesday afternoon, the police department sent out another message along with a 51-second video, saying it was looking for information on the “identity of the driver of a grey vehicle that was struck by protest organizer Tianna Arata during the march on Tuesday evening, July 21. Arata can been [sic] seen in the video holding a flagpole and striking the vehicle with it as the vehicle attempted to leave the area.”

The video of drone footage released by the SLO police department shows a handful of demonstrators ahead of the main crowd, blocking an intersection. When the video pans to that area, the gray vehicle is shown stopped, then making a right turn and proceeding through the pedestrians, pushing them aside and driving ahead despite one protestor on the vehicle's hood.

Someone is seen swinging what appears to be a banner or short flag stick at the vehicle, but only after the minivan or SUV accelerates towards that person and keeps driving, pushing and chasing him or her down. KCBX News is attempting to speak with SLO PD administrators to ask why the department is describing the events in downtown San Luis Obispo Tuesday night differently than eyewitnesses or from what is shown in the video footage. We will update this story as more information becomes available.

Protest organizer Arata is facing five charges, according to police: suspicion of participation in a riot, unlawful assembly, conspiracy, unlawful imprisonment and resisting arrest. Another protester was arrested for kicking an officer in the groin, after that officer had pushed the protester to the ground.

RACE Matters SLO, the organization behind the protest, released a statement calling Arata’s arrests troubling, saying “while violence is not condoned, the tactics used by law enforcement to arrest protestors after the protest ended is reason for grave concern.”

“The decision to arrest Arata was made in coordination with the District Attorney’s Office based on Arata’s actions and the actions of the organized group,” according to the police statement sent out a few hours after the protest ended.

During the protest, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow had tweeted, “Public Safety Alert! happening now: This is unlawful and incredibly dangerous. It must stop. Highway 101 and Santa Rosa Street entrance,” along with a four-second video of a neon pink-vested protester directing cars away from an onramp.

SLO County NAACP chapter president Stephen Vines told KCBX News Wednesday that overall the protest was peaceful, with minor incidents. But he said Tuesday’s protest was led by young leadership, and that young leaders made a mistake by taking the march onto the freeway.

“It only takes three percent of the people to sort of take the energy, to take the other 97 percent anywhere,” Vines said. “Here they haven’t been involved, they haven’t been activists. They are going to make a lot of tactical errors because they are inexperienced.”

According to organizers, the protest was partially sparked by a video surfacing online showing San Luis Obispo County Sheriff Ian Parkinson speaking at what’s being described as a North County Tea Party event in early July. In that video, reports the San Luis Obispo Tribune, Parkinson questions nationwide Black Lives Matter protests over racism. The video on YouTube is now inaccessible, having been made private after the Tribune’s coverage.

The SLO County Democratic Party is now calling out Parkinson to publicly explain his stance, calling his comments in the video bizarre and divisive.

Parkinson said in a statement emailed Wednesday to KCBX News that he didn’t mean to offend. He says his comments on racism were taken out of context, and that “racism, unfortunately, exists everywhere. We cannot ignore racism and we cannot tolerate it as a community.”