Introduction and Background
This section provides an overview of the scope, goals, and methodology for this review. It also provides background information on the City of Arcata and the Arcata Police Department (APD) to set the context for the department’s response to the April 15, 2017 homicide of Josiah Lawson and the findings and recommendations found in this report.
Scope and Goals of the Review
In 2018, the City of Arcata retained the services of the National Police Foundation (NPF) to analyze the APD response to the homicide of Josiah Lawson on April 15, 2017, and the subsequent investigation. The City of Arcata’s administration believed an independent review of the circumstances surrounding the emergency response and the initial investigation of this event would provide lessons learned from the experience and necessary recommendations to improve the APD’s future responses.
The goal of the NPF review was to examine the response to, and investigation of, the homicide of Josiah Lawson and to provide recommendations for improving future response to similar incidents involving multiple parties and multiple witnesses.
The scope of analysis includes a review of:
• The City of Arcata’s initial response to the incident;
• The initial response from mutual aid / co-responding agencies;
• The regional coordinated efforts of mutual aid;
• Review and recommendations on improvement of scene and evidence security;
• Review of homicide investigation during the first 72 hours; and,
• Use of best practices and recommendations on improvement as necessary.
This report also includes lessons learned and recommendations for:
• Improving APD’s response to, and investigation of, similar incidents in the future; and,
• Improving the response of the APD and coordination with area agencies that regularly respond through mutual aid or overlapping agency boundaries.
During this review, the NPF assessment team also noted circumstances, systems, and issues that are outside of the scope of the originally outlined work, but that provide important context for outcomes in this case as well as recommendations for moving forward. As such, the report also discusses the impact of decisions made by APD staff during the initial response on subsequent investigative efforts and case outcomes.
To conduct this review, the NPF assembled a team of subject matter experts with extensive experience in public safety incident response and investigations. From August 2018 through August 2019, the NPF assessment team:
• conducted 24 in-depth in-person and phone interviews with non-involved parties who had knowledge of the case;
• reviewed materials including numerous incident reports, policies and procedures, and transcripts of related court proceedings;
• conducted comprehensive and extensive review of approximately 50 hours of recorded
interviews of witnesses and other involved parties;
• examined open source media relating to the response to the incident and the investigation; and,
• researched national and international promising practices and resources.
The NPF assessment team also conducted in-depth review and analysis of six hours of APD dashboard camera (dash cam) video and audio recordings during preparation of this report. Each APD patrol vehicle was equipped with mobile camera systems that provided dashcam video (mobile auto video or MAV) and personal audio recordings (officer) from the time of the officers’ initial arrival until when each individual officer cleared the call.
Recognizing that the cul-de-sac around 1120 Spear Avenue — where the incident occurred — was narrow and unlighted, all three patrol vehicles were parked on the street just outside of the cul-de-sac. Parking there would minimize potential officer safety issues and avoid blocking the small driveway, which could prevent fire and ambulance vehicles from being able to reach the incident area. Consequently, no video is available of the activity in the driveway in front of 1120 Spear Avenue. However, each of the officers was equipped with audio transmitters that connected to the dashcams mounted in the patrol vehicles.
Based on the analysis of this body of information, the NPF assessment team developed the lessons learned and recommendations contained in this report. A full detailed methodology can be found in Appendix A.
Limitations of this Report
While the City of Arcata and APD provided substantial access to relevant case information, this study was limited, because the homicide of Josiah Lawson continues as an on-going, active investigation. As would be expected, the NPF could not interview potential witnesses or partygoers outside of the first responders who were on scene the morning of April 15, 2017. Additionally, Humboldt State University (HSU) administration and staff members declined to formally respond to requests for an interview, except for the HSU chief of police.
Note: The Mad River Union is publishing the National Police Foundation report in its entirety. – Ed.