Civil rights attorney threatens SLO County district attorney

August 12, 2020

Tianna Arata, in the center, stomping on a burnt flag


A civil rights attorney out of Philadelphia threatened yesterday to bombard San Luis Obispo with protesters if District Attorney Dan Dow does not drop charges against Black Lives Matter organizer Tianna Arata, 20.

Attorney Lee Merritt joins protesters who have demanded the district attorney drop charges against Arata. Merritt asserts Arata’s arrest is an example of issues with the justice system in the United States.

“Tianna Arata was arrested for being a protest leader in San Luis Obispo— the most recent example of America’s justice system demonstrating its ability to arrest everyone but the men who murdered Breonna Taylor in her bed,” Merritt posted on Instagram on March 11. “Dan Dow, district attorney, you have a very small window of time to drop these charges before your county, city and home are bombarded by activist from all over the country. Find out if this is an idle threat if you want to.”

For three weeks, protesters have marched almost daily in downtown San Luis Obispo demanding Arata be set free, that charges are dropped, and that businesses that do not show support for their movement are shut down. In addition, Arata’s supporters have bombarded local goverment agencies with emails, calls, and public meeting comments demanding Arata be set free from prison and that the charges are dropped.

However, Arata was booked into jail and released without bail the same evening. In addition, charges have not been filed against her. Merritt has not returned requests for comment.

It appears Merritt and the protesters are unaware that Arata is not in jail and that charges have not been filed. The district attorney’s office is reviewing the evidence before making a determination on charging Arata.

“We are required to investigate, review the recommendations,” said Deputy District Attorney Eric Dobroth. “It is our duty and obligation to engage in the process.”

On July 21, after congregating at Mitchell Park, Arata 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 and blocked vehicles.

In one incident, a protester threw a skateboard at the back window of a car. The window shattered, with pieces landing on a 4-year-old boy, who was unharmed. In another altercation, protesters refused to let a pregnant woman’s parents drive her to the hospital.

Officers arrested Arata following the protest, and released her shortly afterwards without bail.

SLO police officers then reviewed evidence, which includes hours of videos, before last week recommending prosecutors file five felony charges against Arata: four felony counts of false imprisonment and a felony count of conspiracy. In addition, investigators are seeking three misdemeanor charges: resisting or obstructing a peace officer, inciting a riot, and unlawful assembly.

On Aug. 10. the district attorney began reviewing the police department’s charging recommendations.

“Recent social media posts and other media reports state that Ms. Arata faces 15 years in prison for her conduct. This is patently incorrect and a reckless statement.” according to the SLO District Attorney’s Office. “All individuals charged with a crime are legally presumed innocent until convicted in a court of law. Therefore, it is premature to speculate or discuss what possible sentence would be appropriate or warranted.”

Arata’s arraignment is scheduled for Sept. 3. The district attorney’s office anticipates prosecutors will make a decision on whether to file charges by that time.

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Lets see I get pulled over for a seat belt infraction, speeding, failure to stop for red light, I get ticket and if i wish I go see the judge and pay a fine, this is my penalty for breaking the law, so what makes these people think that this child should not pay a penalty, she broke several laws, disobeyed the police, desecrated our flag, endangered others and we should not file charges, I don’t think so, the DA needs to hone the charges that fit and file them, the loud mouth lawyer needs to be ignored, all they are going to do is stir hate and discontent among the taxpayers and this definitely will not help their cause and this hack thinks sending more thugs to SLO will work, I doubt that, we have the National Guard just outside of town and I would think some one with brains would call them in to stomp this out.


People really need to ask themselves: does the BLM movement want equality or special privileges? There is a difference.


You mean the special privileges that you have?


I wish I had more time to debate your stupid comment. You don’t know anything about my privilege. Being white or any other nationality besides black is an automatic privilege now, right? So then what do we name all the offspring of the black athletes, rappers, celebrities? Are they oppressed too? How does white privilege play into that? Hmmm. I bet my kids have a different story to tell than say, Michael Jordan’s kids. Just trying to figure out where we draw the line? Back to the original story, if I were to break the law I would expect to get in trouble. That’s usually how it goes.


It looks like Lee Merritt is now representing Tianna Arata. They both appeared on ABC news tonight. The interviewer asked Mr. Merritt about his threats to the District Attorney twice but Merritt did not respond. It’s time for the Mayor of San Luis Obispo to step up and say something! Now we’re facing threats of people showing up from all over the country. Where is the leadership? Or does that only happen when the mayor agrees with the cause? C’mon!


Calm down. The last time a lot of out-of-towners showed up in San Luis Obispo to protest was in 1926 when the Ku Klux Klan marched down Monterey Street to protest the opening of Mission School. Then, so it is said, the marchers were mostly from Kern county who really only wanted an excuse to leave the Valley and get to the beach for a Klam bake.

Mr. Merritt obviously has never been to San Luis and doesn’t know that it is 200 miles, and four hours, from downtown Los Angeles. For the out-of-town protesters, the bus ride alone will be torture.


Merrit wants the litigation. No matter what the mayor says it will be manipulated. Speak through a good trial attorney. Let the attorney control the interactions.

Drop the charges … pronto. Many laws are politically unenforceable, just look at what is going on in Washington, DC. Blowing off congressional subpoenas.

The local protestors will have their victory march, so what?


Is exemption from criminal laws the end goal for the BLM movement?


No, between other things,they want the respectof the law when there are police shooting and social justice


Then respect the laws!


Do you really think that dropping the charges will make everything hunky dory in SLO? All it will do is empower her and people like her to continue the anarchic destruction. Her Portland parents shipped her to SLO to attend a “troubled youth” school…she’s here to stay. She’s made national news and the rapper, T.I. has taken up her cause for his millions of followers. Facebook is filled with posts of people willing to make a trip to SLO and aren’t shy about talking about bring weapons.

Hell, the Trib pretty much lionized her on the front page, complete with a posed glamour shot. KSBY is doing their usual neutered news bit. CCN is the only news source that is reporting facts which is a stunner to me because years ago, I was one of their biggest critics.

It’s a lose/lose situation for Dan Dow. I don’t envy him.


Exactly, they will keep escalating the violence, seeing how much they can get away with, until they are stopped, just like toddlers testing their parents.


I think she’s pretty.


Here are three main points about this story from a legal perspective:

First: The attorney lied about why Arata was arrested when he wrote that she was “arrested for leading a protest”. She was in fact arrested for numerous alleged crimes, including felony false imprisonment (§237 California Penal Code). However, this type of a lie is not a criminal offense or a violation of professional ethics on the part of the lawyer.

Second: Not every threat constitutes a crime or a violation of professional ethics. Lawyers issue legal threats daily (e.g. “If you don’t pay my client what you owe, I will sue you”). The issue is WHAT was threatened. Mr. Merritt is a lawyer and knew how far he could go before a legal threat becomes illegal. All he actually said is that lots of activists will descend on SLO, the County and Dan’s home. Mr Merritt knew that this would have to be interpreted for purposes of criminal law and professional ethics as simply a threat that a lot of people from outside the area (activists, but legally no different than any other tourists) would come here to exercise their constitutional rights under the First Amendment.

Third: What should our local officials do? Prepare for the possibility that people, both locals and “tourists”, might turn a legal protest into a riot. Be ready to nip criminal behavior in the bud and arrest the perpetrators to prosecute them for crimes they commit. This means that our law enforcement officers must have the means to enforce the law and be ready to do so. This also means that our city and county officials should fully back our law enforcement officers; this last one will be hard for Heidi Harmon.


Avoid this mess. Drop the charges in a “spirit of community toleration for the views and political expressions of others”. Yes, I don’t like it either. Respect and thank our police who have to deal with our society’s maladies every shift. Don’t put them in an impossible situation.


Did your hear from others?


Let him come and visit and be a pro bono adviser for her…I bet he would leave feeling a bit ashamed….because we in SLO county rock….and we are not bad people….we are good people and don’t let anyone make you feel differently…….


A simple question. Do rock solid, slam dunk, cases get sat upon for weeks on end before charging decisions are made? Or is it only the political ones that are delayed? The point is the decision is not based solely on interpretation of the criminal code. As always other factors apply as well.

Prediction; all felony charges will be dropped, and she cops to the misdemeanor ones. A simple cost benefit analysis says so.

The City has a $26 million dollar budget hole does it not?. The City’s response to protesters is expensive. These are inconvenient facts. Pursuing the most aggressive charging WILL result in further protests. A plea bargain will naturally deescalate this. Dow knows this. So does the Mayor.

The delay is for you, the hang her high crowd, and no one else. Dow wants you to think he’ll be the law and order guy you crave. There is an election ahead.

The reality is he has a budget, and priorities within it, and he won’t blow it all to hell because of this one case. If he were in alignment with the Police department’s charging decision he would have followed through by now.

Read the tea leaves.


Race you to the negative 100 votes! :-)


Stay on that wall—Mazin…we need you on that wall….they can’t handle the truth.;-)


Keep trying to reply. Apparently I haven’t phrased myself appropriately. These officers have made fools of themselves and have been called out by almost everyone. Well, whatever.


Ever been played? This letter is a set up, $$$$, civil rights’ attorney style.