David Josiah Lawson
North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman is asking the FBI to step in and assist with investigating the still unsolved slaying of a Humboldt State University sophomore.
“The tragic death of 19-year-old David Josiah Lawson on April 15, 2017, has been devastating to this rural community in my congressional district,” read the letter Huffman sent FBI Director Christopher Wray last month. “With a small police department, Arcata needs experienced homicide investigators to help solve this case. … The case has become particularly divisive in the community, and tensions are likely to persist or grow the longer the case goes unsolved.”
According to Huffman’s office, the FBI has yet to reply to the request.
Arcata police arrested a McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, at the scene of the off-campus party where Lawson was fatally stabbed but saw Zoellner released after a judge found insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial on a murder charge. In April, Lawson’s mother, Charmaine Lawson, file a claim for damages
against the city, alleging police botched the investigation into her son’s killing. Zoellner, meanwhile, has filed a lawsuit against the city alleging police falsified reports and denied him medical attention in the case.
Back in April, then Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman abruptly resigned as the year anniversary of Lawson’s death loomed. His resignation came less than 24 hours after that of Tom Parker, a retired FBI agent who’d been brought in to consult on the investigation
. Parker told the Journal
he stepped away from volunteering his time to aid in the probe because he felt the department wasn’t heeding his recommendations, was withholding information from him and being dishonest with him about the investigation. City Manager Karen Diemer didn’t dispute that detectives were withholding information from Parker but said there was a lack of trust in the consultant after a breach of confidential information.
Huffman notes in his letter that the case has racial overtones, as Zoellner is white, Lawson was black and “prior to the altercation, some in Mr. Zoellner’s party were reported to have used racial slurs.”
APD, the congressman writes, has been “stressed” by a lack of resources in the case and asks that Wray “consider providing the Arcata Police Department with experienced homicide detectives and other resources to help resolve the David Josiah Lawson case.”
Interim Arcata Police Chief Richard Ehle said he has not heard from the FBI and doesn’t really expect to.
“We certainly would not turn down the FBI’s assistance in this matter but that’s probably not forthcoming,” he said.
Since taking the helm at APD last month, Ehle said he’s already hired an outside consultant — a retired homicide detective from Alameda County — to review the entire case file and give the department feedback and has an investigator he hopes will start working on the case in the coming weeks.
“The whole problem (with the case) has been limited resources from the very start,” Ehle said, adding that he’s following through on the city’s promise to do what it can to move the case forward.
Huffman's letter was first reported by the Mad River Union