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City of SLO responds to charge against chair of new diversity task force

Posted at 11:53 AM, Oct 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-19 18:37:43-04

The City of San Luis Obispo on Monday issued a statement in response to the additional charges filed Friday in connection with a July 21 Black Lives Matter protest.

One of those charged with false imprisonment was Amman Asfaw, who was recently elected Chair of the city's new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Task Force.

The task force was created in June 2020 by city council resolution and is described as having a goal of advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in the community, focusing on activities that support marginalized racial, ethnic, and cultural groups.

In regards to Asfaw's position on the task force, the city said, "He will continue in his role on this important effort while these separate proceedings unfold. One of the most sacred and important principles in the American criminal justice system holds that all persons are innocent until proven guilty."

In a separate statement, the DE&I Task Force's vice chair, Michael Boyer, expressed his support of Asfaw on behalf of the task force, saying, "He is passionate and thoughtful in his service to the San Luis Obispo community. We look forward to his ongoing contributions in the pursuit of diversity, equity, and inclusion."

Asfaw was one of six people charged Friday in connection with the protest and march that blocked Highway 101. Police claim some protesters also committed acts of vandalism during the protest.

Robert Lastra Jr. and Jerad Hill both face charges of vandalism and false imprisonment; Sam Grocott faces three charges of false imprisonment; Marcus Montgomery is charged with false imprisonment, obstructing the free movement of a person in a public place and resisting or delaying a peace officer; and Joshua Powell is charged with resisting or delaying a peace officer.

In regards specifically to the charges against Montgomery, Powell and Asfaw, who are all Black, San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon released an "Open Letter to District Attorney Dan Dow" on Saturday, accusing Dow of singling out the three men and trying to intimidate community activists.

"The D.A. is enforcing the systemic suppression of community activism here in SLO and it sends a message: you are not safe to protest or to vote or to belong-if your skin isn't white," she wrote. "I am here to say: NO. Not on my watch. Your Jim Crow tactics will not stand here in SLO. And we, the people of SLO, will not stand idle while our young people are being played like pawns for political gain."

Dow responded Monday to what he called Harmon's "preposterous false allegations," saying her letter was a campaign stunt to help her political fundraising.

"The mayoral candidate’s dangerous and divisive rhetoric seeks to stir more unrest rather than promote peace and healing in our community," he said in a statement. "I will never compromise the integrity of this office by using race or public opinion to decide whether or not to file a criminal charge. My decisions will always be based on the evidence and the law.”

The six people added to the case on Friday join Tianna Arata and Elias Bautista in facing charges related to the protest. Both were arrested on the evening of July 21.

Arata, who police say was responsible for organizing the protest, faces 13 misdemeanors, including obstruction of a thoroughfare, false imprisonment, unlawful assembly, and disturbing the peace by loud noise.

Bautista, who police say assaulted an officer during Arata's arrest, has pleaded not guilty to charges of resisting an executive officer and resisting, obstructing or delaying a peace officer.

Arata, Montgomery, Powell, and Asfaw have a court hearing scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 22. A protest is planned outside the San Luis Obispo County Courthouse that morning.

Lastra, Grocott, and Hill are due in court on November 16.

Activists also planned to rally Monday afternoon at Mission Plaza, calling on the district attorney to "drop the charges" against all eight people.