David Josiah Lawson
The Humboldt County Civil Grand Jury released a report on the Arcata Police Department's response to the homicide of Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson with recommendations to improve the law enforcement agency.
"The most difficult question the civil grand jury had to evaluate was the charge of racial bias within the police response," the report states. "The civil grand jury conducted many interviews and reviewed a vast array of information. Although the civil grand jury found failures, ineptitudes and poorly executed police work, it did not find direct evidence of racial bias."
Lawson was fatally stabbed after several fights ensued at an off-campus party during the early morning hours of April 15, 2017. Kyle Zoellner of McKinleyville was later arrested as a suspect but was later released by a Humboldt County Superior Court judge citing insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial.
Nearly two years after his death a criminal grand jury declined to indict anyone
in connection to the case. From its initial hours, the investigation into Lawson's death has been mired in controversy, as detailed in a National Police Foundation report
that was released earlier this year.
The civil grand jury is recommending that the city of Arcata ensure funds to continue to hire and train more evidence technicians, to continue to diversify its staff, train officers in cultural and biased education and improve community engagement. It is also recommending that the county and local cities established a centralized dispatch communications center that would shorten response times and to create a Citizens Advisory Board to APD that would review police conduct and service.
The civil grand jury also noted how the combination of hate speech — when Zoellner's friends said a racial slur as Lawson was on the ground bleeding — along with a white suspect and a black victim has led many to believe that the stabbing was a hate crime, however, the grand jury "believes that the final determination of a hate crime designation into the case should be withheld until a perpetrator is charged and the intent and motivation for David Josiah Lawson's homicide is fully explored."
Read the full grand jury report below.
See related PDF