Justice for Josiah activists disrupt Arcata City Council meeting

Meeting adjourned early, little city business discussed

Activists interrupt an Arcata City Council meeting on Thursday night with a chant of “Justice for Josiah.” The meeting was adjourned early without addressing the majority of the items on the agenda. (Sonia Waraich — The Times-Standard)
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An Arcata City Council meeting came to an early end Thursday when activists disrupted the meeting with chants of “Justice for Josiah.”

A couple dozen people disrupted the meeting during public comments, leading Mayor Michael Winkler to call a five-minute break. But the council members only came back to grab their belongings after the activists made it clear they had no plans to leave.

Vice Mayor Paul Pitino, Councilman Brett Watson and City Manager Karen Diemer stayed behind to speak with the group.

“A mother lost her son 33 months ago, over a thousand days ago” said Arcata resident Leonard Charles. “She’s at her wit’s end. She’s not doing well.”

Charles said he couldn’t imagine what kind of pain his mother would be in if something similar had happened to him as what happened to David Josiah Lawson, a black Humboldt State University student who was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party in 2017.

The investigation into the case by the Arcata Police Department was flawed, Charles said, and it was important to disrupt the status quo because of how urgent this issue is.

No one was held accountable for the slaying, the activists said, despite DNA evidence pointing to Kyle Zoellner, who was arrested in relation to the killing shortly after the party. A judge and grand jury decided that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring the case against Zoellner.

An investigation into the Arcata Police Department’s response that night by the National Police Foundation was expected to be available before the end of the year, but has yet to be released.

In a previous interview, the foundation’s president, Jim Burch, said the team working on the report was finalizing the details and communicating with the city regularly.

“The Police Foundation has been communicating with us and apologizing for the fact that, you know, they’re definitely prioritizing accuracy of the report over timeliness,” Diemer said. “I know it’s frustrating; it’s frustrating for me, too.”

But activists said there were other things the council could be doing to move things forward, also questioning why they had the City Council meeting on a Thursday instead of the night before when they regularly have the meeting and which coincided with the Justice for Josiah vigils held on the 15th of every month by Lawson’s mother.

“We can’t convince people that racism isn’t winning here,” said Kelsey Reedy. “We can’t.”

The meeting had been rescheduled months ago, Diemer said.

Diemer said it was important not to rush the investigation because, as she understood the situation, there is only one shot left at prosecuting the case and the city wants to ensure it brings a strong case.

“The lesson was really loud and clear for us is that the evidence that we have right now is not enough without witness statements coming forward,” Diemer said. “I know some of us might believe it’s enough — I get that — but we can’t bring the same case back to the district attorney and think that we’re going to get a different outcome towards prosecution. We can’t do that, the risk of that is that it’s over.”

As far as the City Council meeting, Pitino said it will be rescheduled and the public will have the standard three-day notice ahead of time.

Sonia Waraich can be reached at 707-441-0506.

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