Kevin L. Hoover
Mad River Union
ARCATA CITY HALL – Activists protesting the unsolved killing of Humboldt State student David Josiah Lawson have set up an occupation of City Council Chamber. Protest co-organizer Renee Saucedo said the occupation will continue until the City of Arcata re-hires investigator Tom Parker.
Parker had assisted APD with the Lawson investigation in August, 2016, and resigned last April. Parker alleged incompetence and disinterest in the investigation by city officials. The city then sent parker a cease-and-desist order, claiming that his remarks to news media were compromising the case. He denied the charge.
Parker stated that the case was solvable, and Justice for Josiah advocates have repeatedly demanded his reinstatement, and that he be put in charge of the case. The city says it is vigorously pursuing the investigation.
Following a protest which filled the meeting room and prevented the regular council meeting from taking place, the activists settled in for a long stay. A meeting table laden with pizzas and other food was set up next to the area in front of the council dais, which is carpeted with blankets and pillows.
Tensions were still running high at 9 p.m. The activists, gathered in a circle on the floor in the front of the chamber, demanded that a group meeting not be recorded. Several used pillows and their bodies to block a reporter's camera from filming in the public building. Others said permission was required before pictures could be taken, demanded credentials and one man referred to the reporter as a "bigot." Councilmember Paul Pitino, the sole city representative on hand at the time, characterized the event as a learning experience and urged non-provocation.
A half-hour later, the scene had mellowed among the three dozen or so participants, and the embargo on recording images in the City Hall room had apparently been lifted. A spokesperson for the group named Jill said the earlier anti-press tactics were a misunderstanding, because it wasn't clear that the reporter was an actual journalist. However, several individuals who had asked the reporter's affiliation had been informed of it. She also said some participants had joined the protest late, and possibly weren't familiar with the nonviolence tactics the core group supports.
As members of the group milled about, Green Party activist and McKinleyville resident Eric Rydberg serenaded the group with an improvised blues tune possibly titled "The Mad River Blues."
Jill affirmed the group's demand that Parker be rehired, and said participants were gratified that City Manager Karen Diemer had agreed to contact him.
Pitino maintained his presence at the back of the chamber. "The restrooms are open, we've got food, we've got music," he said. Pitino wondered how many of the occupying protesters were Arcata citizens.
Interim Police Chief Rick Ehle and a few other officers stood by, monitored the situation.
Diemer confirmed that she would contact Parker, and that the activists already had. She said Parker thought it better that they speak in the morning.
Diemer said she was prepared to share with Parker the resources that the city has committed to the Lawson case. "It is my belief that he is going to be happy and satisfied to know that those resources are here," she said.
According to Diemer, the city secured a full-time homicide investigator to do a complete review of the case, which was done. In addition, an APD sergeant has been promoted to sergeant detective and his scheduled cleared to do nothing else but investigate the case. Also, Humboldt State has loaned Arcata Police a sergeant who works half time on the case.
"They are really reinvestigating every aspect of the case right now," she said.
Further, the Police Foundation is reviewing APD's handling of the case, including the initial response to the crime scene on April 15, 2017. That group's report will be made public on its completion. "they really come in to look at, what are the best practices moving forward given that type of situation if it were to happen again. Not specifically, but a large event in town, multi-agency, and looking at how we would best respond in the future. Are there better steps that we could take?"
Diemer said Parker's re-hiring is "not advisable" for a number of reasons. She listed the "breach of confidentiality" regarding the investigation, the claim filed by the city by Charmaine Lawson through attorney Shelley Mack, with whom Parker appeared on KHSU radio. "A lot of what he spoke to really mirrored what we saw in the claim," Diemer said. "We felt that was a further breach of confidentiality – some – and further, he sort of identified himself as a litigant against the city on behalf of the claim that was just now filed against the city."
Also, Parker isn't credentialed in the State of California to secure warrants, to take evidence and make arrests. "We needed to bring somebody into the case that really had the California credentials to complete the homicide investigation."
"Regardless of why people are here tonight, whether it's regarding Tom Parker or not, people here want the same thing that we at the city want, which is justice for David Josiah Lawson," Mayor Sofia Pereira said. "At this point we have an active investigation that our team is working very hard on. We have folks in the community, folks that are here right now at City Hall that are engaging in the democratic process."
It was the first political takeover of city property since the Occupy Arcata activities of 2011.
The City Council meeting has been rescheduled to Thursday night at 6 p.m., but it's not certain that Council Chamber will be available. Diemer said the council could convene elsewhere.