Courts

Friday, May 26, 2017

Judge Denies Skilled Nursing Defendants' Change of Venue Bid

Posted By on Fri, May 26, 2017 at 3:50 PM

Shlomo Rechnitz - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SACARAMENTO BEE / PAUL KITAGAKI JR.
  • Shlomo Rechnitz
Judge Timothy Cissna denied skilled nursing magnate Shlomo Rechnitz’s request for a change of venue in a wrongful death and elder abuse lawsuit following a short hearing today, rejecting claims that he couldn’t get a fair trial in Humboldt County.

Cissna said the case should be tried locally because it involves a substantial personal injury that occurred in Humboldt County and a recently named defendant lives in the area.

The judge also dismissed arguments made in the change of venue motion that contended “negative news articles” would taint the local jury pool, saying there hadn’t been a showing of “undue prejudice.”

The civil case before the judge — one of three currently pending against Rechnitz and the skilled nursing facilities he owns in Humboldt County — alleges low staffing levels at Seaview Rehabilitation and Wellness Center contributed to the death of Ralph Sorensen. The 76 year old died in January of 2016 from complications related to an infected pressure ulcer.

Seaview, Rechnitz, Brius and administrative services company Rockport are named in the lawsuit. (Read more about the case here.)

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Monday, May 22, 2017

Gov Taps Elvine-Kreis as Humboldt's Next Judge

Posted By on Mon, May 22, 2017 at 4:28 PM

Elvine-Kreis
  • Elvine-Kreis
Humboldt County will soon have a new superior court judge.

Gov. Jerry Brown announced this afternoon that he has appointed Conflict Counsel Greg Elvine-Kreis to the judicial seat vacated by Bruce Watson’s retirement in January of 2016. While Watson's term ended at the beginning of this year, Elvine-Kreis' will run until January of 2019, meaning he will have to be elected in 2018 to retain the position, according to the governor's office. Judges are typically elected to six-year terms.

Elvine-Kreis, who has practiced law for about 14 years, filled the role of interim public defender after Kevin Robinson’s retirement and is widely respected in the county courthouse. The 47-year-old graduate of University of San Diego School of Law is a Humboldt State University alum and has worked locally since 2010, when he was hired on as a deputy public defender.

Reached this afternoon, Elvine-Kreis said he’s excited to take on the new post, which will see him start in the family law division, where he expects to stay for three years.

“I think it’ll be great,” he said. “It’s going to be exciting to relearn a new area of law and I think it’s going to be challenging, which I’m excited about, too.”

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Friday, May 19, 2017

Lawson's Mom Announces $10K Reward, Issues Emotional Plea to Witnesses

Posted By on Fri, May 19, 2017 at 7:33 AM

Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Michelle Chermaine Lawson issues an emotional plea for anyone who may have information about her son's death to come forward.
The mother of slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson stood on the campus quad yesterday afternoon and announced a $10,000 award for information leading to the arrest and conviction of her son’s killer and issued an impassioned plea for witnesses to come forward.

Flanked by family, Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman and a couple of her son’s friends, Michelle Chermaine Lawson told the story of what she was doing when she received word her son had been fatally stabbed at an Arcata house party.

“On April 15, I received a phone call from my son’s cell phone at 3:36 in the morning,” she said. “I answered the phone by saying, ‘DJ, What’s wrong?’”

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Monday, May 15, 2017

DA: Officers 'Acted Lawfully' in Fatal McKinleyville Standoff Shooting

Posted By on Mon, May 15, 2017 at 3:44 PM

Sheriff Mike Downey recounts the events of the standoff  at a press conference. - LINDA STANSBERRY
  • Linda Stansberry
  • Sheriff Mike Downey recounts the events of the standoff at a press conference.
District Attorney Maggie Fleming found officers “acted lawfully” when they fatally shot a McKinleyville man after a lengthy standoff at an apartment complex in August.

David Alan Fulton, 59, who had a history of mental health issues, was killed about 2 a.m. after emerging from his flame-engulfed apartment and firing rounds at SWAT team members, some 17 hours after law enforcement was first called to the scene.

The standoff saw the evacuation of surrounding neighborhoods and a backup SWAT team dispatched from Mendocino County. Crisis negotiators were unable to talk Fulton into surrendering. While the DA's release did not name the officers involved, the Humboldt County Sheriff's Office in August identified Humboldt County deputy James Mowrey as the officer who exchanged gunfire with Fulton shortly after 9 a.m. on Aug. 17.

The office identified those involved with the fatal encounter as Lt. Jason Caudillo, Sgt. Joseph Comer, deputy Ze Manuel Lima and deputy Corey Bender, all from the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office, and Ukiah police officer Jason Chapman.

“Unfortunately, the peaceful end to the incident well-sought by law enforcement was prevented by Mr.
Fulton’s violent actions,” the District Attorney’s Office press release states. “District Attorney Maggie
Fleming contacted Mr. Fulton’s mother, expressed her deep regret for her loss and notified her of this decision.”

Read the full release below:
District Attorney Maggie Fleming has concluded her review of the fatal officer-involved shooting in McKinleyville on August 18, 2016.
_____
On Wednesday, August 17, 2016, at about 9 a.m., the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) Communications Center received a 911 call from the area of 1770 Sutter Road, Redwood Creek Apartments, McKinleyville. The caller reported multiple gunshots within the apartment complex. Responding HCSO deputies learned that a disgruntled tenant, David Fulton, had fired a rifle across the interior parking lot at the manager’s office. Mr. Fulton was known to on-site management to have “long term mental health issues” and had telephoned numerous threats to them that morning. As HCSO deputies arrived, Mr. Fulton fired additional gunshots. One of the deputies returned fire. Mr. Fulton was not hit but retreated back inside his upstairs apartment. He remained there despite directions to exit the building from the law enforcement officers who surrounded the building. The officers learned Mr. Fulton’s female companion was also inside the apartment.

The HCSO set up a command post near the scene and secured a perimeter with the assistance of other agencies. HCSO Captain Thompson requested the assistance of the Humboldt County SWAT team. An additional SWAT team from Mendocino County was also summoned. SWAT team members began evacuating neighbors around 11 a.m. Crisis negotiators and Humboldt County mental health personnel were also on scene by 11 a.m.
Mental health personnel assisted and advised the crisis negotiation team who used a public address system to make numerous attempts to coax Mr. Fulton into coming out of his apartment and surrendering. He could be heard shouting unintelligibly, but he refused to come out. At about 1 a.m. – nearly 14 hours after law enforcement were called to the scene - Mr. Fulton fired additional shots. SWAT personnel used a light/sound distraction device to break out the front window. About 20 minutes later, Mr. Fulton’s female companion emerged from the apartment unharmed. Mr. Fulton fired more shots and the surrounding officers saw a fire growing inside the apartment. At about 2 a.m. Mr. Fulton emerged from the apartment as it became engulfed in flames, firing his rifle at the SWAT team members, striking their vehicle. They returned fire, killing him.

The Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) investigated the fatal shooting and the events leading up to it. (The CIRT team is composed of law enforcement personnel from other county law enforcement agencies and investigators from the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office.) In this case they were assisted by forensic scientists from the California Department of Justice and Humboldt County Fire/Arson Investigators. CIRT investigators conducted extensive recorded interviews of participants and observers of the incident and supervised the collection of physical evidence. Although the exact cause of the fire could not be determined the light/sound distraction device, electrical and natural gas appliances were all eliminated as causing the fire. The autopsy on Mr. Fulton revealed injuries from the fire and gunshot wounds consistent with the reports of the witnesses. Toxicological analyses showed he had taken two different prescription psychotropic drugs prior to the incident.

In the course of their duties, law enforcement officers may use deadly force in response to deadly force used or threatened against them. District Attorney Fleming’s review of the investigative reports on this case leads her to conclude the officers acted lawfully. Unfortunately, the peaceful end to the incident well-sought by law enforcement was prevented by Mr. Fulton’s violent actions. District Attorney Maggie Fleming contacted Mr. Fulton’s mother, expressed her deep regret for her loss and notified her of this decision.



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Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kitchen Held For Trial in DUI Manslaughter Case

Posted By on Thu, May 11, 2017 at 1:48 PM

Marcia Kitchen's booking photo.
  • Marcia Kitchen's booking photo.
Humboldt County Superior Court Judge John Feeney ruled yesterday that there is sufficient evidence to hold Marci Kitchen to stand trial on manslaughter charges stemming from allegations that she was driving drunk when she hit and killed her daughter and another girl in July.

Kitchen was held to answer on charges of vehicular manslaughter and DUI causing death, as well as a special allegation that she fled the scene. Kitchen was arrested in September following a months-long investigation into the July 12 crash that left her daughter, 14-year-old Kiya Kitchen, and her friend, Faith Tsarnas, also 14, dead.

Feeney’s ruling came after two and a half days of seemingly gut-wrenching testimony from investigating officers and Kitchen’s son. Both the Times-Standard and Lost Coast Outpost covered the hearings daily.

Kitchen remains free after posting $750,000 bail.

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

Tensions Escalate During Saturday Protest in Arcata

Posted By on Sun, May 7, 2017 at 3:04 PM

For the second consecutive day, protesters descended on the Arcata Plaza on Saturday to demand justice in the killing of David Josiah Lawson. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • For the second consecutive day, protesters descended on the Arcata Plaza on Saturday to demand justice in the killing of David Josiah Lawson.

Arcata has been quiet today after protesters' chants echoed through the city's streets for two consecutive days, demanding justice for slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson.

More than 100 people descended on the Arcata Plaza yesterday, where they chanted and waved signs before moving on to the Union Town Shopping Center. At the shopping center, which houses Safeway and CVS, the protesters blocked the entrances and exits, refusing to let cars pass unless they first agreed to call the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office to request further investigation into Lawson's killing.

The protest — which came after more than 100 students and community members marched through the streets Friday night — turned tense at times, when some motorists took exception to not being allowed to leave or enter the parking lot. Ultimately, Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman said protesters remained peaceful.

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Saturday, May 6, 2017

Peaceful Protest in Arcata Demands 'Justice for Josiah'

Posted By on Sat, May 6, 2017 at 9:14 AM

More than 100 people gathered in Arcata to demand "justice for Josiah" Lawson after a judge ruled there isn't enough evidence to hold his accused killer to stand trial. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • More than 100 people gathered in Arcata to demand "justice for Josiah" Lawson after a judge ruled there isn't enough evidence to hold his accused killer to stand trial.

More than 100 people marched through Arcata last night to demand justice for slain Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson and urge law enforcement to continue its investigation.

Chants of “justice for Josiah” and “no justice, no peace,” echoed off downtown buildings and through on-campus apartments as the group marched for more than two hours. At several rallying points, speakers urged those in attendance — mostly students with some community members sprinkled in — to call the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office to urge a thorough and continued investigation.

Earlier in the day yesterday, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge ruled police had not found enough evidence to hold Lawson’s accused killer, 23-year-old Kyle Zoellner, to stand trial on a murder charge. Zoellner was released from jail yesterday, though he could be recharged in the case if the investigation yields new and credible witness statements or forensic evidence linking Zoellner to the stabbing.

Last night, someone had posted some fliers on campus proclaiming, “murderer on the loose!!!” and “Don’t trust this man,” with a picture of Zoellner. The case has been racially charged from the beginning — Zoellner is white and Lawson was black, and there have been allegations that the stabbing was racially motivated, though no evidence was presented during Zoellner’s five-day preliminary hearing to support that.

The protest last night remained peaceful, though marchers did block off the exits of the Safeway shopping center for about 10 minutes, refusing to let cars leave. The group plans to protest again today at the Arcata Farmers Market.

Local photographer Mark McKenna was at the march last night and shares the following slideshow of scenes from the protest. For more on Friday's court decision, see past Journal coverage here and for more on Lawson's killing see this week's Journal cover story here.


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Friday, May 5, 2017

Judge Dismisses Murder Charge in Slaying of HSU Student

Posted By on Fri, May 5, 2017 at 3:34 PM

Kyle Zoellner - ARCATA POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Arcata Police Department
  • Kyle Zoellner
Update: The city of Arcata released a statement that is copied in its entirety below the original post, as are statements from Humboldt State University and the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office.

Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen ruled this afternoon that there is insufficient evidence to hold Kyle Christopher Zoellner to stand trial on a charge that he murdered David Josiah Lawson on April 15.

Friends and family of Zoellner’s clapped as the judge announced his ruling, after which bailiffs quickly led the defendant out of the packed courtroom. Some who had been attending the hearing in support of Lawson, a 19-year-old Humboldt State University sophomore, wept in the hallway afterward.

Reinholtsen offered a lengthy explanation of his ruling and the deficiencies in the prosecutors' case against Zoellner, saying there wasn’t a single witness that put a knife in Zoellner’s hands that night, much less who claimed to have seen the fatal stabbing. And at this early juncture — just a few weeks after the killing — there is no physical evidence connecting the defendant to the 10-inch kitchen knife found at the crime scene or the killing, Reinholtsen said.

“We know (Lawson) was killed, we know he was killed by a knife and we know somebody at the party did it, but I don’t think at this point we have sufficient reason to think the defendant did it,” Reinholtsen said.

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Friday, April 28, 2017

'Heart' of Palco Marsh Case Allowed to Proceed

Posted By on Fri, Apr 28, 2017 at 9:44 AM

A camp in the PalCo Marsh. - FILE
  • File
  • A camp in the PalCo Marsh.
A federal judge dismissed portions of a lawsuit claiming that Eureka’s ordinances against camping and the storage of personal items in public spaces violate the Constitutional rights of homeless individuals but is allowing an amended complaint to be filed.

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White also found the civil suit filed against the city by attorney Peter Martin could proceed on the Eighth Amendment claim that outlawing public camping without providing adequate shelters amounts to cruel and unusual punishment by making homelessness itself a crime.

Martin’s law partner Shelley Mack says a decision is still being made on whether to refile on the issues the judge left the door open to — allegations that the city's ordinance violate due process rights, protection against unreasonable search and seizure and the right to privacy.

“The Eighth Amendment claim is really the heart of the case and that is the claim that we are really focusing on,” she says.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Not Guilty Plea Entered in Fatal Stabbing of 19-Year-Old HSU Student

Posted By on Wed, Apr 19, 2017 at 5:32 PM

Lawson - GOFUNDME
  • Gofundme
  • Lawson
The 23-year-old McKinleyville man accused in the fatal stabbing of Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson pleaded not guilty to murder and a related weapons charge at his arraignment today.

A preliminary hearing for Kyle Christopher Zoellner is set for May 1, District Attorney Maggie Fleming stated in an email to the Journal. His bail is set at $1 million.

HSU President Lisa Rossbacher said in a statement released this afternoon that “we remain focused on supporting our students and doing all we can for Josiah's family.”

“Our University Police are continuing to assist the Arcata Police Department, which is leading the investigation,” the statement reads. “Looking ahead, we will insist that everything 
Kyle Zoellner - ARCATA POLICE DEPARTMENT
  • Arcata Police Department
  • Kyle Zoellner
possible will be done to pursue justice for Josiah."

The criminology major was apparently stabbed after a fist fight broke out early Saturday morning at a house party, possibly over a missing cell phone. The university and the Arcata Police Department have made repeated appeals asking everyone who was in attendance to come forward.

Yesterday, the APD specifically urged the sender of an anonymous email with details about the crime to talk with investigators. APD Chief Tom Chapman also said he plans to investigate and address concerns about the timeliness of the emergency response when it is appropriate.

A vigil for Lawson is set for Thursday.

From Humboldt State University:
A celebration of life in remembrance of David Josiah Lawson will be held on Thursday, April 20, at 5 p.m. in the Kate Buchanan Room.

The family of David Josiah Lawson and the HSU community will gather to to remember the life of Lawson, who died Saturday.

Lawson was a sophomore studying criminology at Humboldt State University and had recently been elected president of HSU’s Brothers United. He's remembered by his family for his warm smile and his kindness.

For support: Office of the Dean of Students at 707-826-3504. Counseling & Psychological Services at 707-826-3236. Employee Assistance Program at 707-443-7358.

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