Officials in California slammed a “misinformation” campaign that claims that a “peaceful” Black Lives Matter leader who was arrested last month is facing 15 years in prison, calling her the “aggressor” of a protest that turned violent.
News of Tianna Arata’s July 21 arrest was going viral Wednesday with the hashtag #FreeTianna, while a Change.org petition has racked up more than 275,000 signatures calling on the DA to not pursue criminal charges.
Arata, 20, was busted on several felony charges following a protest she organized in San Luis Obispo.
Police Chief Deanna Cantrell said the activist illegally led some 300 demonstrators onto Highway 101, where they blocked traffic, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
Arata allegedly texted police beforehand that the protest would remain “peaceful,” with a mutual understanding that the marches wouldn’t spill onto highways or get violent, Cantrell told the publication.
But police said protesters smashed a car window with a 4-year-old inside and accused Arata of hitting another vehicle with a flagpole. Cantrell referred to Arata as the “leader and aggressor.”
She was booked on eight charges — four felony counts of false imprisonment and one felony count of conspiracy, as well as resisting or obstructing a peace officer, inciting a riot and unlawful assembly, which are all misdemeanors — and released without bail.
Social media exploded with claims that Arata faces up to 15 years in state prison — but San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow said that’s not the case, noting that prosecutors are still weighing whether to file criminal charges.
“The review will involve examination of all of the evidence that includes many social media posts, video evidence, witness statements, and other evidence,” he said in a statement Monday. “It is likely that additional investigation will be necessary before making a criminal filing decision.”
He added, “Finally, 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.
“… Although the San Luis Obispo Police Department has listed numerous charges that they believe the evidence supports, the decision of what charges to bring is completely within the District Attorney’s authority and responsibility.”
He urged the public to be patient while the probe plays out, noting that “public pressure for a particular outcome will not be considered in making a charging decision.”
Arata’s next court appearance is scheduled for September 3 — though Dow said the decision on whether to charge her would come before then.
Meanwhile, activists have held protests outside the county courthouse to raise awareness of Arata’s arrest, KSBY reported.
On Tuesday, Arata’s lawyer Patrick Fisher said he’s hopeful prosecutors won’t pursue the case.
“Prior to making their decision, I am hopeful they will review and consider not just reports from the San Luis Obispo Police Department, but also reports my investigator will have prepared by the end of this week,” Fisher told KSBY.
“The public attention this situation has attracted is understandable when one considers that what happened to Tianna hurts all of us. The arrest of peaceful protesters offends our country’s core values.”
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