Calls for DOJ to take over Lawson case

Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union

ARCATA CITY HALL – Citizens took to the mic at the public lectern during last week’s City Council meeting to decry a decision by a Humboldt County Grand Jury not to press charges in the April 15, 2017 killing of Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson.

After reviewing evidence and interviewing witnesses, the  Grand Jury on March 13 declined to indict anyone. 

A succession of speakers condemned District Attorney Maggie Fleming, Arcata Police and what several said was endemic racism in Humboldt County.

Casting local law enforcement as disinterested, incompetent and incapable of delivering justice for the slain student,  speakers called for the state Department of Justice to take up the case.

David Josiah Lawson

“Get this case out of Humboldt County,” said one woman. “Justice for Charmaine [Lawson’s mother]. Justice for Josiah.”

A woman named Jessica said “the pain at this point is just almost overwhelming.” 

The woman said “so many people” should be arrested for obstruction of justice. “Do something,” she implored the council. 

Richard Kossow was among those who asked about a review of the Arcata Police Department’s handling of the case, including its initial response, that is or was being conducted by the National Police Foundation. Speakers wished to review the foundation’s report.

Another speaker called the City Council a “sterile institution” which, along with the community, had “disrespected” Lawson’s friends. “The mishandling of this case really shows the illegitimacy of, this council, the city and the Arcata Police Department, of the lack of capability  by the city and the need for this case to be handed over to the DOJ,” he said.

“I wish I was surprised,” said Kelsey Reedy. “This system was not designed to help people of color. The system was designed to help those in power.”

Reedy said it is “very apparent” there aren’t any county entities capable of adequately handing the case. She called the Lawson killing “an open-shut case” and insisted that there was adequate evidence to press charges.

A woman named Casey said the treatment of Lawson, his family, friends and supporters was “unconscionable.” She also called for state or federal referral of the case.

Lisa Pelletier said “institutional racism” was at the root of the problem. She, like several other speakers, stated that Arcata occupies Wiyot land. She said she’d written a letter to the DOJ, and that Charmaine Lawson had also called for a DOJ referral.

Pelletier said previous claims by the city that it was doing all it could to solve the case were false, and amounted to “gaslighting” the public. That term, according to the online Urban Dictionary, refers to “‘a form of intimidation or psychological abuse, sometimes called ‘Ambient Abuse’, where false information is presented to the victim, making them doubt their memory, perception and quite often, their sanity.”

Erik Yamho Ahqha Rydberg said the DA’s Office was incapable of successful prosecution, and urged the city to ask her to make a DOJ referral. “The last thing I want to see is somebody like Maggie bring forth that case and have it not be done right,” he said.

Kathleen Ann Lowder said that everyone in power in Humboldt County are “white settlers” incapable of supplying justice.

City responses

City Manager Karen Diemer said the National Police Foundation’s investigation is complete and that it is working on the subsequent report, which is expected in May. 

She said that if there are any aspects of the report that might jeopardize the ongoing investigation, those would be withheld from public view. However, she said, the report is intended for public consumption. 

“I don’t know what the content of the report will be,” Diemer said.

Mayor Brett Watson said the city has sent letters to the state attorney general asking for “help” and that it step in. Other area elected letters have sent similar letters urging state and federal assistance.



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