DA: Lawson Review Will Likely Take Another 4-6 Weeks


David Josiah Lawson - SUBMITTED
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  • David Josiah Lawson
Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming says her office will need another month to six weeks to complete its review of the David Josiah Lawson homicide investigation to determine what — if any — charges are appropriate in the case.

The Arcata Police Department completed its investigation into Lawson’s April 15, 2017, stabbing death and turned the case over to Fleming’s office Nov. 8. The district attorney initially indicated her office would need “several weeks” to review all the submitted reports and recordings before deciding how to proceed.

In an email to the Journal on Sunday, Fleming wrote that an initial review of the case file revealed her office would need “additional existing documents and materials” from APD, which it received Nov. 30, as well as “additional information from other agencies that participated in the investigation. (Fleming declined to share details on what additional information was requested and from which agencies in an effort to “protect the investigation.”)

“We continue to gather and evaluate information,” she wrote. “I anticipate four to six additional weeks to complete the process, assuming we receive additional needed information in a timely manner.”

Lawson, a 19-year-old Humboldt State University sophomore, was fatally stabbed before dawn at an off-campus party. A McKinleyville man — Kyle Zoellner — was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder, though the case was dismissed several weeks later when a judge found prosecutors failed to present enough evidence to support the charge.

From there, APD resumed the investigation amid no small amount of controversy. The case has been racially charged from the beginning, as Lawson was black and Zoellner is white and a number of witnesses have indicated that Zoellner’s girlfriend hurled racial epithets at Lawson as he lay dying. Lawson’s death and the ensuing investigation have been the subject of numerous protests, including some that disrupted Arcata City Council meetings.

As the year anniversary of Lawson’s death approached, Tom Parker, a retired FBI agent brought on to consult with the case, resigned, charging that APD had been dishonest with him about its progress and refused to follow his advice in the investigation. Parker’s resignation was quickly followed by that of Chief Tom Chapman, who stepped down abruptly without offering a public explanation. The city has also received threats of litigation from both Zoellner and Lawson’s mother, with both essentially alleging that APD mishandled the homicide investigation.

One of former Interim APD Chief Richard Ehle’s last official acts while in office was wrapping up the investigation — which he brought in numerous outside detectives and additional resources to accomplish. Ehle told the Journal he believed investigators had found “unequivocal physical evidence” linking a specific suspect to Lawson’s death, though he declined to name the suspect or describe the evidence.

The city has since hired Brian Ahearn as Chapman’s permanent replacement.

Once Fleming’s review of the case is complete, her office could decide to file a criminal complaint charging someone with causing Lawson’s death, decline to prosecute the case or request further investigation by APD or the DA’s internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.

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