Emotions ran high this evening during a meeting aiming to inform the public on updates in the murder investigation of David Josiah Lawson.
The meeting was also set to discuss student safety in the local community.
Many who attended the meeting felt frustrated by how slow the investigation is moving and what many viewed as a lack of productivity from the Arcata Police Department.
Lawson was 19 and a second year Humboldt State University student from Perris, CA. It has now been six months since his stabbing death and no one is in custody for his murder.
A local community member, 23-year old Kyle Zoellner was arrested at the scene.
After five days of preliminary hearings, Eureka Judge Dale Reinholtsen ruled there was insufficient evidence to hold Zoellner for trial.
Zoellner was released three weeks after his arrest. Six months following his release, he has now filed a claim against the Arcata Police Department for allegations of false arrest.
This was the third meeting arranged by the Arcata City Council and came at the request of Lawson’s mother, who wanted more transparency in her son’s murder investigation.
The city agreed to hold these meetings the last thursday of each month as an opportunity for the media to ask questions and for students to share concerns about their safety in the community.
In attendance were members of the city council as well as Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman.
University faculty and administration could also be seen seated in the seats arranged in an U like fashion in the middle of the D street Neighborhood Center—including University Police Chief Donn Peterson, HSU President Lisa Rossbacher, the Dean of Students as well as the Provost.
Many community members and HSU students were also present.
The meeting was facilitated by two women from the Humboldt Area Foundation who give workshops in the community on race and equity.
Through suggestion, the city agreed to start the meeting off with updates on Lawson’s investigation rather than waiting an hour and a half into the meeting as was scheduled.
“I am going to stick with the students and everyone here,” Charmaine Lawson said as she addressed those in the room.
Ms. Lawson had once again traveled 12 hours from southern California to Humboldt County in attempts to get updates and answers into her son’s murder. This marked her 9th trip since Lawson’s fatal murder in April.
“That is why I called these special meetings; to discuss updates into my son’s murder investigation as well as to discuss student safety. There is no problem switching gears and doing the update first.”
Seating was arranged and APD Police Chief Tom Chapman as well as Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer sat in front of those gathered.
“We are well into the investigation so there is not going to feel like a substantial update between last month and tonight,” said Diemer.
“Then let’s go around and answer some questions that many of you may have in the room. I will let Chief Chapman talk then I will fill in from there.”
Chapman started off by giving an update into the reward that is being offered in Lawson’s murder investigation. Additional donations has now increased the reward to $55,000.
He once again stressed the importance of witnesses coming forward.
As far as updates, there was nothing new or substantial mentioned by the police chief that he has not relayed for the last six months.
APD is still waiting on a case review from retired FBI investigator Tom Parker. Parker was brought in via local attorney for the Lawson family Shelley Mack.
APD are also waiting for forensic analysis from the Department of Justice for a knife recovered at the scene.
Many questioned if APD has been playing an active role the last six months in solving Lawson’s murder. On the surface, it appears that the investigation is at a standstill but it is also important to note that APD can not give specifics as to not compromise the investigation.
It definitely makes one wonder however, what APD has done as a police department since Zoellner’s release.
Chapman mentioned that APD recently handed Lawson’s case over to the District Attorney’s office, not for prosecution but to review the case with fresh eyes.
Concerns have been raised since Zoellner’s arrest over why his girlfriend and her friends were never arrested or at least brought down to the station the night of Lawson’s murder.
The girls were involved in a fight leading up to Lawson’s murder which involved pepper-spray and the jumping of Lawson’s girlfriend. She was left with a puncture wound on her arm and a bite mark on her breast (which scarred and required a tetanus shot).
Lawson’s mother mentioned at the meeting that the District Attorney has chosen not to file charges against Zoellner’s girlfriend and her friends for jumping Lawson’s girlfriend.
“Maggie Fleming said that it was mutual combat,” Ms. Lawson relayed.
This only increased crowd frustrations.
Many questioned how to put pressure on the D.A. Others inquired on how to call for her job. Maggie Fleming is currently up for re-election yet no one in Humboldt County is running against her.
For about 30 minutes students expressed their frustrations. HSU faculty and administration including Lisa Rossbacher, as well as the city manager, attempted to soothe the crowd through what many viewed as lip service but to no avail.
During this time many students could be seen trickling out of the neighborhood center, leaving for reasons that were not clearly expressed but could definitely be felt.