By KAREN VELIE
Three BLM protesters have filed claims against San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow alleging discrimination, bias and malicious prosecution over charges related to a July 21 rally in which property was damaged and vehicles blocked. The protesters are seeking damages in excess of $10,000 each.
Lawyers for Tianna Arata, Sam Grocott and Robert Lastra claim their civil rights were violated when they were charged with multiple misdemeanors and, in Lastra’s case, a felony charge.
They cite a SLO County Superior Court Judge’s decision to disqualify Dow and his office from prosecutions in connection with the protest as evidence showing that Dow engaged in discrimination against them.
Judge Matt Guerrero concluded that a fundraising email from Dow and his wife demonstrated a clear conflict of interest between his reelection bid and his role as the district attorney prosecuting the protesters.
The email asked for support for Dow as he leads a fight against the “wacky defund the police movement and anarchist groups that are trying to undermine the rule of law and public safety in our community.”
Arata and Grocott say that the conflict of interest demonstrates that Dow acted with prejudice against them. Two of the claimants are white and one is black.
“Superior Court Judge Matt Guerrero found unparalleled bias and discrimination in the DA’s office and the prosecution of Arata,” according to Arata’s Jan. 21 claim filed with the county. “Violations of her civil rights under federal and state laws is alleged. DA Dow has defamed Arata, prosecuted her in an unlawful manner.”
The allegations in Arata and Grocott’s claims are identical. The third claim, filed for Lastra, accuses Dow of trying to coverup an attempted murder.
Arata, Grocott and Lastra describe damages from defamation, lost wages and emotional distress in the civil complaint filed by the San Fransisco office of Seville Briggs attorneys.
Last July, Arata is alleged to have led approximately 300 protesters onto Highway 101 from both Osos Street and California Boulevard, blocking all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour. While on the highway, protesters ran after vehicles attempting to drive off the freeway, blocked vehicles, and yelled profanities at some of the drivers, videos of the protest showed.
Grocott and Lastra were among protesters who encircled a car driven by motorist who was attempting to drive around the protesters.
“One suspect jumped on the hood of the victim’s vehicle and an additional suspect broke the rear window out of the vehicle with a skateboard as the vehicle was leaving the area,” according to the CHP.
Glass shattered on a 4-year-old boy who was sitting in the back seat. The boy was not physically harmed.
The defendants claim the driver hit Grocott as he attempted to drive away, tossing Grocott on the hood of the car and prompting Lastra to throw a skateboard at the back window. Grocott alleges he was assaulted. Lastra claims it was attempted murder.
Prosecutors charged Arata with 13 misdemeanor counts in September: one count of unlawful assembly, one count of disturbing the peace, six counts of obstruction of a thoroughfare and five counts of false imprisonment. Officers, who arrested Arata on the night of the protest, had asked prosecutors to file five felony and three misdemeanor charges.
In October, prosecutors filed three misdemeanor charges of false imprisonment against Grocott, and a felony charge of vandalism and a misdemeanor charge of false imprisonment against Lastra.
In response to Judge Guerrero’s ruling disqualifying the entire SLO County District Attorney’s Office, the California Attorney General’s Office and Dow filed appeals. It will likely be at least three months before the court rules on the appeal.
If SLO County rejects the protesters’ claims, they can then file lawsuits.
Even though the claims name Dow and Does 1 through 10, prosecutors are immune from liability, which means that they cannot be sued for their decisions as prosecutors. However, if lawsuits are successful, the county could face liability.