Nearly a dozen people urged the Arcata City Council on Wednesday to call for the state Department of Justice to take over the David Josiah Lawson case, saying local law enforcement has repeatedly failed to find justice for the slain Humboldt State University student.
It was the first Arcata City Council meeting since the Humboldt County District Attorney’s office announced on March 13 that it will not file charges in Lawson’s case, citing a criminal grand jury’s decision not to indict a suspect based on evidence gathered by Arcata Police Department.
Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn has said his department will continue to investigate the case, but speakers on Wednesday said they no longer had faith the department can solve the murder.
“We demand that you call the DOJ,” said Kelsey Reedy, a local organizer. “We cannot make Charmaine (Lawson) wait any longer.”
David Josiah Lawson, 19, was fatally stabbed at a house party in Arcata on April 15, 2017. His death has since remained unsolved, prompting waves of activism calling for justice in his case.
Lawson’s mother, Michelle-Charmaine Lawson, has been active in the community, participating in monthly vigils dedicated to her son.
“Take a look and see how (Michelle-Charmaine Lawson) is doing it,” said one speaker. “She and her pain could choose anger. She has the opportunity to choose anger. She’s not choosing anger; she’s choosing love.”
Michelle-Charmaine Lawson wrote on Facebook in January that the state Department of Justice had identified DNA on the knife used to stab her son. The DOJ assisted in forensic analysis of evidence, as is standard in most cases, city manager Karen Diemer told the Times-Standard.
Other speakers brought up an independent review of the APD by the National Police Foundation, an organization in Washington, D.C.
Karen Diemer, the city manager, announced that the Police Foundation has completed its investigation. Based on recent updates, Diemer said, the city should receive a report by May. The city council has “made it clear” that the document will be made public, she said.
The announced arrival month of May is still a tentative date, Diemer later told the Times-Standard.
Speakers continued pushing the council to author a letter requesting the DOJ take over the case. Mayor Brett Watson said the city is indeed working on a letter to follow up similar letters it has already sent.
“We’re calling on state representatives to please also send letters,” Watson said.
Multiple speakers described the erosion of trust between city officials and the community. One blamed the city for not creating a “healing space” for students traumatized by their memories of the night of Lawson’s death.
Another speaker called out the council for pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag, a symbol that “perpetuates white supremacy,” instead of finding justice for the Lawson family.
Above all, speakers said they hadn’t forgotten the slain student and wouldn’t until justice is found. One speaker referred to Justice for Josiah advocates’ consistent attendance at city council meetings.
“If not for anything else,” she said, “do it so you don’t have to see us anymore.”
Shomik Mukherjee can be reached at 707-441-0504.