The city of Arcata has settled a civil lawsuit brought by the mother of slain Humboldt State University student David Josiah Lawson, whose unsolved killing at an off-campus party four years ago continues to reverberate throughout the community.
In the agreement with Charmaine Lawson, the city has agreed to make a $25,000 contribution to the David Josiah Lawson Memorial Scholarship fund and to partner with the Lawson family to create a mural honoring him according to a press release. No other details of the agreement were released.
Journal attempts to reach Charmaine Lawson for comment were not immediately successful., though the city's press release notes she will "continue to fight for justice on behalf of her son" and misses his "laughter, smiles and most importantly his big warm hugs."
Josiah Lawson was fatally stabbed in the early the morning of April 15, 2017, amid a series of fights outside of an Arcata house party. While Kyle Zoellner, a then 23-year-old McKinleyville resident, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson's murder, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge dismissed the case a few weeks later, finding there was insufficient evidence to hold him for trial.
Charmaine Lawson filed suit against the city in November of 2018, alleging that the city and its officials violated her constitutional rights to equal protection under the 14th Amendment by inadequately and incompetently investigating the case, with racism and discrimination contributing to what the lawsuit described as the city's "deliberately indifferent" policies, practices, customs, training and supervision of officers related to the investigation.
The case, which had been slated to go to trial Nov. 29, was dismissed July 1 as a result of the settlement.
Zoellner, meanwhile, has also filed a lawsuit against the city, alleging police lacked probable cause when they arrested him, defamation and malicious prosecution. It remains pending.
Charmaine Lawson has been a constant presence in Humboldt County in the years since her son’s death as she continues to call for justice, joined by other community members.
But the investigation into the HSU sophomore's fatal stabbing has been troubled from the start, plagued by a series of crucial initial missteps in controlling and processing the crime scene and securing potential witnesses, and subsequent trouble getting additional witnesses to come forward and cooperate.
A February 2020 report from the National Police Foundation found that while the emergency response did everything possible to try to save Lawson's life, “many basic tenets of crime scene security and management” were not followed. The report cited a systemic failure by the police department’s then leadership to provide adequate training on crime scene management and command skills, which severely hindered the ensuing investigation.
That was followed a few months later by a Humoldt County Civil Grand Jury report, which found "failures, ineptitudes and poorly executed police work" but stated "it did not find direct evidence of racial bias."