By David M. Greenwald
San Luis Obispo, CA – Two weeks after the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney—despite being recused from the Tianna Arata case by Judge Matthew Guerrero in December—filed a motion to gag the defense, citing in part extensive interviews with Everyday Injustice. Arata’s defense attorney Curtis Briggs fired back in a massive 272 page filing.
“This is an American nightmare. This case is simply one highly publicized example of how Dan Dow’s tenure as SLO’s most powerful law enforcement official has been plagued by racism, extremism, and prosecutorial abuses that pose a clear and present danger to the integrity of the SLO criminal justice system and the taxpayers,” Briggs, joined by local San Luis Obispo attorney Patrick Fisher, wrote in the opening of the brief.
The charges stemmed from a protest that occurred last summer as cities across the nation were protesting the killing of George Floyd at the hands of Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.
On July 21, 2020, Ms. Arata was one of eight to ten students who helped organize a protest that began in a local park. The students left the park about 200 strong and marched through town, growing as large as 300 when, around 7 pm, “many of the protesters moved from the downtown area onto the freeway, causing a traffic blockade on Highway 101.
“At one point, while the protestors attempted to take a moment of silence in memory of George Floyd, an extremely agitated 47-year-old white male motorist attempted to maneuver onto the freeway. He drove on the shoulder of the onramp around a line of stopped vehicles and attempted to continue onto the freeway,” the filing describes.
Eventually the vehicle struck a protester, carried him a short distance while another protester smashed the back window with a skateboard. Arata and several fellow protesters were arrested and charged that evening.
The filing lays out in great detail a blow-by-blow description of the activities of the San Luis Obispo DA, arguing that the DA “now seeks to place a gag order on the attorneys and parties preventing them from speaking to the public about this case and even from commenting on the District Attorney’s own misconduct which is a matter of upmost public concern.”
On March 1, the Vanguard interviewed three of the defense attorneys as part of its Everyday Injustice podcast.
Writes the DA: “[S]everal defense attorneys and defendants, have affirmatively engaged the media on issues specific to this prosecution. Recently, the campaign has ratcheted up, with several defense attorneys making inflammatory statements about the Attorney General, the District Attorney, and this Court.”
The DA in his motion notes: “In early March, defense attorneys, Curtis Briggs, Brian Ford, and Vincent Barrientos were guests in an 80-minute video posted on YouTube, entitled, ‘Everyday Injustice Podcast Episode 94: Tianna Arata and Black Lives Matter Prosecution.’”
He continues: “Each attorney spoke of his views of their cases, including a one-sided commentary on the released SLOPD drone video and witness statements. They also offered unproven and false allegations against the California Attorney General, District Attorney Dan Dow, the Sheriff, as well as the prosecuting deputy attorneys from the Attorney General’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office.”
“Despite Dow’s assertions attorneys have ‘racheted up’ media, Arata’s arrest immediately became the subject of nationwide scrutiny, including over 500,000 people signing petitions, thousands of emails, letters, and phone calls to Dow,” Briggs counters. “The gag order request readily admits that the Everyday Injustice Podcast was the public discussion precipitating the gag order request. Although quoting ad nauseum from the podcast, the request leaves out the most important remarks by undersigned counsel regarding procuring a district attorney candidate to run against Dow in the upcoming election.”
The filing goes into great detail to argue and demonstrate that it was the San Luis Obispo DA who ratcheted up the media attention.
“Even after reviewing video footage of the incident, rather than arrest or charge any White males for recklessly driving through the protestors, law enforcement began issuing false and prejudicial statements in the media along with selected excerpts of drone footage attempting show the protestors in the worst light possible to advance their narrative,” Briggs and Fisher write.
On August 14, 2020, they wrote, “SLO CHP continued their efforts to prime the jury pool with their false narrative by again posting a statement to Facebook regarding the rear window of the vehicle being broken and posting pictures of a protestor attempting to have him identified.”
They also noted: “The amount of time, effort and resources SLOPD and the SLO District Attorney’s office devoted to their attempts to build a case against Ms. Arata illustrates that the charges were motivated by an agenda that had nothing to do with enforcing misdemeanor traffic violations.”
Moreover, they now cite the September letter and Dan Dow’s appearance on on “Washington Watch with Tony Perkins,” a daily politics broadcast for the right-wing organization, Family Research Council.
Writes Briggs and Fisher, “Dan Dow’s alignment with Tony Perkins is indicative of his bias towards the Black Lives Matter movement.”
Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council describes the Black Lives Matter movement as a “Marxist” group which promotes “cop killings, prostitution, anti-Semitism, anarchy, and the suppression of speech and religion.”
Briggs and Fisher argue, “Dan Dow’s show of support towards Tony Perkins while he was tasked with ‘deciding’ whether to file charges against Ms. Arata demonstrates either gross incompetence, poor judgment, or more likely his true motivation of using Ms. Arata as a way to cater to his base.”
In December, Judge Matthew Guerrero ruled that DA Dan Dow had a clear conflict of interest, requiring him to recuse himself from the criminal case against the 20-year-old protest leader.
The ruling hinged on the DA’s inappropriate use of a campaign letter where the DA’s wife attempted to raise money by attacking Arata and her fellow protesters.
In September, “Mr. and Mrs. Dow sent out a campaign fundraising request via email on his birthday. This email sought financial campaign contributions and stated, “Dan needs to know more than ever that you support him, and he really needs your financial support so he can keep leading the fight in SLO County 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.
“We had planned his kickoff re-election campaign fundraiser to be this month, but due to COVID and all the crazy protest activity, we were not able to pull it off.”
The fundraiser continued, “You can send Dan a Happy Birthday message in the comments section when you make a generous financial contribution TODAY to his campaign for reelection.” “Your support will help to ensure that Dan will continue in spite of the ‘defund police’ and George Soros type of opposition happening against DA’s all over the state and nation.”
The judge ruled: “The September 4, 2020, email establishes a clear conflict of interest.”
Briggs and Fisher, meanwhile, contend, “What is most concerning and paradoxical about the District Attorney’s request is the assertion that the gag order is necessary to promote the ‘administration of justice.’ In reality, the District Attorney is asking the Court to shield the misconduct of their office in pursuit of Dan Dow’s re-election as his alarming ties to millions of dollars in misappropriation begin to surface.”
They add, “The freedom to speak openly about our government, our criminal justice system, our elected representatives, and most importantly about our government representatives when they are engaged in misconduct deserves the most stringent First Amendment protection. This ultimately is the exact type of speech our great nation was founded upon.
“The District Attorney’s request is undeniably unconstitutional. It tramples on the First Amendment rights of the parties in this case without adequate justification. Granting this request will result in a miscarriage of justice. The request must be denied.”
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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