SLO prosecutors lose appeal in Tianna Arata case

Tianna Arata standing on a highway barrier

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

The California Supreme Court decided it will not hear a case on whether San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow’s personal political opinions jeopardized seven Back Lives Matter defendants’ rights to a fair trial, requiring state prosecutors to replace the local DA’s office.

During a July 21, 2020 march, Tianna Arata allegedly led approximately 300 protesters onto Highway 101, blocking all lanes in both directions for nearly an hour. SLO County prosecutors charged Arata with 13 misdemeanors, and also filed charges against Elias Bautista, Jerad Hill, Sam Grocott, Robert Lastra, Marcus Montgomery, Joshua Powell and Amman Asfaw.

Defense attorneys argued that Dow’s personal political opinions jeopardized the defendants’ rights to a fair trial, and that local prosecutors should be replaced by the California Office of the Attorney General, a request Judge Matt Guerrero approved.

In early Jan. 2021, both state and local prosecutors appealed Guerrero’s ruling to recuse the entire district attorney’s office because it “fell well short of the statutory standard.” They lost that attempt and also a request for a rehearing based on factual errors in an Appellate Court ruling. The Appellate Court then ordered the opinion published in the official record.

Both state and local prosecutors voiced concerns that this case could create a slippery slope, with defendants asking to recuse prosecutors based on their political leanings. In addition, by publishing the order, the case could lead to a lower statutory standard for disqualifying a prosecutor.

In November, prosecutors filed a petition for review with the state Supreme Court.

Following the high court’s decision not to hear the case, the California Attorney General’s Office will take over the prosecution. A pretrial conference for the case is scheduled for Feb. 2 at San Luis Obispo Superior Court.