Arcata ,CA–The 15-month mark of David Josiah Lawson’s unsolved homicide is quickly approaching. With no new suspects in custody it leaves many to wonder when and most importantly how, Lawson and his family will receive justice.
The abrupt resignation of Arcata’s former Police Chief Tom Chapman, amid mounting public pressure over the case, only added to the frustrations and confusion.
His resignation came one day after retired FBI investigator Tom Parker terminated his contract with APD. Parker signed onto the case in August 2017 and was brought in via the family. He cited a lack of cooperation from APD.
In a sit-down interview in April 2018, Parker tells KHSU that he relayed his feelings to Arcata’s City Manager weeks prior to his resignation and told her that he wanted to terminate his contract.
She convinced him to stay on board until she could discuss the matter with the D.A and city attorney. Parker said that weeks passed however and he did not hear back from her.
“I had made recommendations based on my observation of the investigative reports that were provided to me. I felt the biggest obstacle in the case was a lack of leadership in the investigation. I told her that she should take a real hard look at the effectiveness of the chief.”
Parker went on to say that he would call Chapman and inquire on the status of the investigation and his recommendations. However, the chief’s response began to worry him.
“He would always say, ‘let me get back to you on that.’ This is a small town police department. This is one of the biggest cases that they have had in years. Quite frankly, I found it absolutely astonishing that the chief would not know right up to the minute what was going on with the case.”
Since their departures the city has hired Richard Ehle to serve as interim chief and are working with a consulting agency in the hiring of the new chief.
Chief Ehle served the Oakland Police Department for 25-years and retired as the Police Chief of Capitola in 2010. Ehle also co-founded and is the current Chief Operating Officer of Belcher, Ehle, Medina & Associates, which is a public safety consulting firm that specializes in Interim Police Chief assignment.
Chief Ehle says that despite the time that has elapsed, he believes that Lawson can still receive justice.
“ I believe the case has the potential of being solved and successfully prosecuted regardless of the fact that the offense occurred almost 15 months ago. Cold case homicides are being successfully solved and prosecuted based on new DNA and trace evidence analysis, following up on new or revisited leads/evidence and additional investigators being assigned to the case(s),” Chief Ehle writes via email.
The interim Chief also noted that the City of Arcata is in the process of contracting with the Police Foundation to conduct a study of the case. This will hopefully provide a thorough analysis of the on-going investigation, as well as recommendations to improve and enhance the Department’s capacity to respond to future investigations of a similar nature.
Keesha Nesbeth-Weaver is Lawson’s aunt and has traveled with his mother numerous times during her monthly commute to Humboldt County in the quest of justice for her son. When asked if the interim chief makes her believe they are closer to achieving justice, she responded that actions speak louder than words. She also mentioned that the sights of her cousin begging for justice is frustrating to witness.
“I honest to God feel like they [APD] don’t care. Charmaine has been going out there for 14-months crying at every single city council meeting, begging for them to solve this crime and still nothing. Based off what Tom Parker said, they don’t know what they are doing. People got promoted who should not have been promoted.”
Lawson’s mother recently had a meeting with Congressman Jared Huffman to see if he could assist in any way with the case. Huffman has written a letter to the FBI asking for more resources such as experienced homicide detectives.
“The Arcata police department has been stressed by the lack of resources in this case. After the police chief recently resigned, it is now about to bring in an interim police chief. However, it will be several months before a new police chief can be hired,” Huffman writes.
He also noted the lawsuits brought against the city by both Lawson’s family and the accused. Prior to the stabbing, Lawson was in an alteration with Kyle Zoellner who was arrested at the scene. After a preliminary hearing, Zoellner was released and the judge cited a lack of evidence to require a trial.
“This case has become particularly divisive in the community and tensions are likely to persist or grow the longer the case is unsolved,” Huffman details in his letter to FBI Director Christopher Wray.
After a year of continuous outcry from students of color along with vigils, protest and marches, Lawson’s mother recently entrusted Renee Saucedo to lead community-only focus groups, to strategize justice efforts in his case.
Saucedo is a local community organizer with Centro Del Pueblo, which is a grass-roots organization that helps immigrant families.
There has also been mounting violence between Lawson’s girlfriend and the girlfriend of the accused. Snapchat videos show two additional fist-fights outside of Arcata bar Sidelines within the last two months– with either the women–or their friends.
Lawson’s aunt said that it makes her sad that people are still going out to enjoy their lives when they might have valuable information that can solve the case. She also has a message for those who might have valuable information but are scared to come forward.
“If you are scared for your life to come forward, talk to the D.A and see what they can offer you for protection. There is a $50,000 reward. You can take that $50,000 and go somewhere and start a new life.”