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San Luis Obispo County

SLO County DA disqualified from Tianna Arata case

SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. - The case against Tianna Arata will continue without the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office.

On Friday, the law team representing Arata were successful in their request to have District Attorney Dan Dow and his team disqualified from the case.

"This is the most significant ruling regarding racism and prosecuting Black Lives Matter movement in the country," said Curtis Briggs, one of the defense attorneys for Arata. "It is huge. Much bigger than this case will ever be. This is history making precedent setting law.

Arata's legal team advocated for Dow and the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's office to be disqualified from the case during Thursday's appearance. Judge Matthew Guerrero granted that request on Friday.

"This never happens," said Arata defense attorney Patrick Fisher. "Defense attorneys never get a DA disqualified from a case. This is extraordinary. It's one of those things that has our heads spinning because we're used to filing motions that we believe have merit, them being denied. This was an instance where it was a tall order. This was a big request we made of the court, and as the court outlined, it was a request that was legally justified and we're so pleased the court saw it that way."

Guerrero ruled Dow held a conflict of interest in the case.

He cited personal statements he's made, and most significantly, pointed to language used in a fundraising email his re-election campaign sent out on Sept 4, within 48 hours after bringing charges against Arata.

In the email, wording includes, "crazy protest movement," and "wacky defund the police movement and anarchist groups."

Guerrero called the email inflammatory, an attempt to sway potential jurors and that it interferes with the defendant's right to a fair trial.

He felt the conflict of interest would make it unlikely Arata or the other co-defendants would receive fair treatment during the criminal proceedings.

"Mr. Dow's conduct in this case has been egregious since the beginning," said Briggs. "He's been trying to use this as a platform to advance his political career and to expand a conservative base and the District Attorney's office is not a place for that."

After the ruling, Dow issued a statement that read in full:

First, let me be clear I have deep respect for the judicial process and the judges who are called to make difficult decisions. 

"With that in mind, I respectfully and strongly disagree with Judge Guerrero‘s findings and decision to recuse the District Attorney from prosecuting criminal activity that occurred during this summer's protests. The law is clear that in order for a district attorney to be recused there must be an actual conflict of interest and the conflict must be so grave as to render it unlikely that the defendant will receive fair treatment during all portions of the criminal proceedings.

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. I am proud of the professionalism that our office has maintained under months of immense 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.  We have never wavered from our steadfast commitment to ensure that every defendant receives fair treatment while we perform our important Constitutional duty.

To recuse an elected district attorney who has been chosen by the voters of San Luis Obispo County to enforce the law in our community without any evidence of an actual conflict undermines the role and independent nature of an elected prosecutor and sets a dangerous precedent."

The California Attorney General's office has now been directed to replace Dow and his office.

"If the State of California wants to pick up the prosecution the case, it would be a big mistake on their part," said Briggs. "We're willing to fight extremely hard and we're willing to fight for years to win this case. I think that if they look at this with an objective eye, they'll dismiss these cases, or they'll substantially change what's been charged."

Arata appeared in court via video conference and was visibly surprised when Guerrero announced that the motion was granted.

Arata was arrested on July 21 after a BLM protest she had organized entered Highway 101 and stopped traffic in both directions at the Osos on and offramps.

The 20-year-old was charged with 13 misdemeanors, including five counts of false imprisonment and one count of disturbing the peace.

She made her first court appearance through Zoom in September where she did not enter a plea.

Charges were also filed against six additional individuals in October in connection to the protest. These charges ranged from false imprisonment to felony vandalism.

The next date for the case will be Tuesday, Dec. 15.

Fisher said it will be a status check for "organizational purposes."

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Dave Alley

Dave Alley is a reporter and anchor at NewsChannel 3-12. To learn more about Dave, click here.

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