Getting blasted with liquid pepper wasn’t how 71-year-old Dan Cook planned to start his morning on Sept. 20. But that’s exactly what happened to him and other protesters in Templeton in an incident that law enforcement and an ambulance responded to.
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PHOTO COURTESY OF JANICE MUNDEE
- PEACEFUL PROTEST TURNS VIOLENT Officers arrested 46 year old Miguel Angel Olivares of Arroyo Grande after he allegedly pepper-sprayed several protestors in Templeton.
Cook and several other members of the Atascadero Democratic Club gathered on the Vineyard Drive Highway 101 overpass in Templeton that morning to protest issues including voting rights, climate change, gun control, and abortion rights.
The club isn’t the only political organization that’s used the overpass for demonstrations. According to Janice Mundee, a group of Trump supporters has gathered on the south side of the overpass for several months.
“So they’re on the bridge, and people see them every Sunday. And so, in my mind, I said they don’t get to own the bridge,” Mundee said. “They don’t get to define Templeton or that location. So we’re gonna go on the bridge. We took a different day, we picked a different time. We’re on a different side of the bridge.”
While the Atascadero Democratic Club has protested there every Monday for the past two months, this was the first time Mundee used a Facebook post to invite the public to join them.
By 9 a.m. on Sept. 20, the group of eight was approached by 46-year-old Miguel Angel Olivares of Arroyo Grande. According to Mundee, Olivares had parked his car down the street from the demonstrators and began harassing the group in an attempt to get someone to engage with him.
“He has a right to be there, so we decided we were just going to be there,” Mundee said. “We’re not going to engage with him. Because you can see he was pretty amped up.”
Olivares was allegedly waving a pamphlet of the U.S. Constitution in the faces of demonstrators, verbally assaulting them, before making his way to Mundee’s husband, who was standing at the east end of the bridge. Mundee told her husband not to engage with Olivares and to put his sign up. That’s when he allegedly pulled out pepper spray and sprayed Mundee and her husband.
“He left where his car was on the east side and continued west along the bridge,” she said. “So he went to the next person and the next person, and Dan [Cook] was sitting there, he didn’t have a sign and he just sprayed it all in his face. And it got in his eyes.”
While Mundee and her husband were able to shield themselves from the pepper spray with their signs, Cook had nothing to protect himself with. Emergency services arrived on the scene within 10 minutes and began treating Cook and the others.
“I’ve been incapacitated, which were the most painful experiences of my life to [get it in] your face and your eyeballs,” Cook said, adding that he was affected for at least half an hour.
According to San Luis Obispo County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Tony Cipolla, deputies arrested Olivares in connection with two counts of elder abuse with great bodily injury because two of the victims were older than 65, the unlawful use of tear gas, and resisting arrest. Officers took Olivares to jail, where his bond is set at $50,000.
The county District Attorney’s Office hadn’t filed any charges against Olivares as of press time, Assistant District Attorney Eric Dobroth said.
Mundee said that the purpose of the demonstration was to raise awareness about certain issues and to show the Templeton community that there are people that support Democrats’ values.
“We publicly protested because people need to know there are other people who think like you do, and it’s OK to stand up,” Mundee said.
The incident prompted a response from the SLO County Democratic Party.
“For more than a year we’ve seen the MAGA crowd on this same overpass, but their right to assemble peacefully was respected, as undemocratic and racist as their symbols are,” said party Chair Rita Casaverede. “No one attacked them. But, it only took weeks for them to come after our retired neighbors who are rallying in support of freedom and democracy.” Δ