It's been a year since my son, David Josiah Lawson, was senselessly murdered and I'm still waiting for justice. His murderer or murderers are still walking free and this tragedy has sent me through a whirlwind of emotions. I'm sometimes left numb to what has happened but my fight for DJ's justice has kept me from falling apart. My strength and courage come from an amazing network of family and friends, the Humboldt community and Humboldt State University students and faculty. God has blessed this group of positive influencers in my life because, without them, I don't know if I would have made it this far. This tough journey has been filled with disappointments, from the lack of justification for the first responders' actions, the delay in receiving the autopsy report, the police report that I have still not seen, the dwindling communication from the Arcata Police Department and the lack of availability from the HSU president. What I've learned through my son's murder is that if policies and procedures were followed, I don't believe I would be living this terrible nightmare.
The first responders' lack of following policies and procedures has led to many unanswered questions. The first account was when the Arcata Police Department did not attend to DJ immediately. Officers also failed to secure the scene to allow the paramedics to get to my son in a timely manner. Many of the witnesses felt racial discrimination played a big part in the first responders' lack of quick reaction to render aid to my son. Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman has openly admitted that the defibrillator used by his first responders was slow to function because it was not fully charged. Due to the APD responders' incompetence when controlling the scene, this delayed the response of the paramedics getting to DJ in time. Through all of this, my biggest question in this disappointment was the first responders' complaint regarding how crowd control played a factor in their ability to do their jobs. I find it strange how the prime suspect, a white male, was somehow taken from the "uncontrolled" scene to be placed safely in a police vehicle while my black son lay there bleeding to death. The delays with the first responders bring about more concerns regarding the report of my son's murder.
To this day I have not been able to view my son's police report. I was told by the APD chief that the police report would be available to the first lawyer that I appointed and it was never provided to him. My second attorney also requested the police report and she was denied the report because she was told it was an open investigation, per the chief of police, Tom Chapman. Another delay was in the months spent waiting for the autopsy report. I was just recently notified on March 13 by City Manager Karen Diemer that the autopsy report was submitted to the Humboldt County coroner. The attorneys who have been working patiently on this case have expressed to me that this timeframe to receive an autopsy report is completely unacceptable. Even though these delays with my son's case have caused frustration, I have received endless support from faculty and staff of HSU.
The support I have received to this day has been incredibly amazing. However, the lack of support from HSU President Lisa Rossbacher has been disappointing. I have traveled from Southern California to Humboldt County to stand in solidarity with HSU students and community members. I've only seen Lisa Rossbacher three times while traveling over the last 11 months to attend my son's monthly vigils and city council meetings. The person ultimately accountable for student safety, Lisa Rossbacher, was not present. The HSU president should be available for all student issues and concerns. Students and parents should feel confident that their loved ones are left in an environment that provides safety and accountability, and that allows students to nurture career goals. There are many unanswered questions.
The first responders' answers to questions of why their policies and procedures were not followed have been very inadequate. The prime suspect, a white male, was given priority over my son, a black male, whose attention was needed the most due to the injuries that he suffered.
My first question to the Arcata mayor is: When is APD going to be investigated for its incompetence when officers were dispatched to Spear Avenue that early morning?
The urgency in the reporting of my son's case has been very poor from APD. The timeframe from which the autopsy report was submitted was much longer than normal. Also, a year later, we are still waiting for DNA evidence to be completed.
My second question to the mayor is, why are we waiting a year later for DNA evidence and how much longer do I have to wait?
A growing concern for the safety of HSU students and city of Arcata residents is now in the forefront.
My third question to the mayor is, when is Tom Chapman going to be replaced to assure the safety of the residents of Arcata?
To the mayor, city manager, and the president of HSU: Why doesn't my son's life matter enough? All local resources have been exhausted, so why haven't you as decision makers reached out to the Department of Justice to come take over the case from APD? And why did Chapman ask for the riot squad to be on standby April 20, the day of my son's memorial service at HSU?
APD's fear of students of color and lack of accountability seem to play a consistent role throughout this investigation and I worry this may hinder justice being served for my son.
Overall, I am thankful for the support that I have received in pursuing justice for my son DJ. This fight will continue until I get justice for David Josiah Lawson. My son was a loving, caring, compassionate and ambitious man with integrity. He understood that it is not about the quantity in one's life, but the quality of how you treat others around you. Although this journey has been hard, I will continue to make sure that his legacy lives on. My son was destined for greatness, and that is how he will be remembered.
To all mothers who have lost a child, invest your tears.
Editor's Note: Charmaine Lawson submitted this piece to the Journal on April 9, a day before Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman resigned his post with the city. Reached April 10, Lawson said she stands by the piece and for months had been urging the city to terminate Chapman's employment. In the weeks after Josiah Lawson's death, Chapman indicated he'd heard concerns about first responders' performance and would investigate them after the conclusion of the criminal investigation. For more on the initial response, see the Journal's May 4, 2017, cover story "What Now?"