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Activists say DA's requested gag order will silence protesters

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The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney's Office filed a motion on March 26 seeking a gag order against Tianna Arata and three other Black Lives Matter protesters and their respective attorneys, citing a collective media campaign that's influencing the county's jury pool.

On March 29, about 40 people gathered in front of the DA's Office holding signs that read "Stop silencing Black voices" and "Dan, you already got disqualified, give it up." The group called SLO County District Attorney Dan Dow a racist and accused the office of witness tampering.

CONTINUED SUPPORT About 40 people gathered in front of the Palm street entrance of the SLO County Courthouse in protest of the SLO County District Attorney’s Office’s recent motion to file a gag order against Tianna Arata and four other protesters. - PHOTO BY KAREN GARCIA
  • Photo By Karen Garcia
  • CONTINUED SUPPORT About 40 people gathered in front of the Palm street entrance of the SLO County Courthouse in protest of the SLO County District Attorney’s Office’s recent motion to file a gag order against Tianna Arata and four other protesters.

It pointed to an article from The Tribune in October 2020, in which one of the drivers listed in the District Attorney's Office complaint against Arata said he was cajoled into saying he "feared for his safety" when protesters blocked Highway 101 on July 21. According to the article, the unnamed driver said "he is not a victim."

According to documents obtained by New Times, the DA's March 26 motion would block defendants Arata, Marcus Montgomery, Amman Asfaw, and Joshua Powell from making case-related comments to the public. The motion accuses several defense attorneys of making inflammatory statements about the attorney general, district attorney, and the SLO Superior Court and releasing evidence to the media.

"We will oppose this gag order at every stage. We are in the process of drafting an opposition," Arata's attorney Curtis Briggs said via email.

Briggs said the gag order request is illegal and "designed to quell scrutiny of Dan Dow's fitness for public office."

In a statement to New Times, Michelle Arata, Tianna Arata's mother, said that the gag order is "no different than any other historical or intentional suppression of marginalized voices whose truth has become too powerful."

"Just like the new Jim Crow happening in Georgia around voter suppression, the district attorney's request to put a gag order on my daughter, the other activists, and their legal representation is once again a dangerous tactic to censor their freedom of speech. It is purposely dehumanizing to silence their voices," her statement read. "They are afraid because the snippets of truth that have been revealed from the defense directly contradicted the bias and racially-charged narrative the San Luis Obispo Police Department and the district attorney have created to criminalize these youth and sway public perception. Through interviews, national TV appearances, and social media, Tianna has been able to build a successful platform to advocate for herself and others, and the district attorney is threatened by this."

The motion states that beginning in February, several of the defendants and their attorneys ratcheted up their media campaign.

"The unfounded, false, and prejudicial claims have one goal: provide soundbites for media attention and to correspondingly influence the jury pool. This office, the California Highway Patrol, and the San Luis Obispo Police Department have continued to refuse in joining defense's effort to litigate these cases before the public. As such, one-sided, highly prejudicial narrative has gone unanswered, risking prejudice within the pool of jurors," the document claims.

Part of that narrative, the motion states, is one defense attorney's claim that the California Highway Patrol and the District Attorney's Office lied about an altercation between protesters and vehicles on Highway 101.

The motion cites four other instances of alleged influencing, one of which said that Briggs and two other attorneys (Brian Ford and Vincent Barrientos) are subjects of a gag order in Alameda County in relation to the Ghost Ship fire case. Alameda County Deputy District Attorney Autrey James sought a gag order, the motion states, based on extensive media-attention acts by the defense attorneys.

Briggs told New Times that Dow poses a clear and present danger to the rule of law in SLO.

"Dan Dow has no respect for the law and for court orders. First, he brought fabricated charges against Tianna, then tried to raise money for reelection by prosecuting BLM, he refuses to turn over evidence as ordered by the court, and now he refuses to acknowledge that he is not supposed to prosecute this case," he said. Δ

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