Crime

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

With Foundation Report Still Outstanding, Another Justice for Josiah Vigil Planned for Today

Posted By on Wed, Jan 15, 2020 at 3:40 PM

Despite continuous inquiries from news outlets and community members at city council meetings, the city of Arcata still has't received the $30,000 National Police Foundation review of the city's emergency response to David Josiah Lawson’s fatal stabbing on April 15, 2017, and officials still “don’t have a firm timeline” of when the report will reach their desks.

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rcata City Manager Karen Diemer said the foundation is working on fact checking and “final crafting of the language of the report,” adding that the foundation calls the city every other week to confirm specific information.

“I have trust in the police foundation’s accuracy of the report,” Diemer said. "My assessment is that [the foundation] is doing one more pass through [the report], and I do expect the report this year, hopefully in the first half rather than the second.”

In the early morning of April 15, 2017, Lawson was fatally stabbed at an off-campus party after multiple fights broke out over a lost cell phone. A suspect, Kyle Zoellner, of McKinleyville, was arrested at the scene and charged with the Lawson’s murder. However, a Humboldt County Superior Court judge later dismissed the charges saying there was insufficient evidence to hold Zoellner to stand trial. Last March, a criminal grand jury assembled to review evidence in the case decided not to indict Zoellner or anyone else anyone in Lawson’s killing, sending the case was back at the Arcata Police Department for further investigation.

In a Sept. 10, 2018 memo detailing what the city hoped to get out of the National Police Foundation review, then-Mayor Sofia Pereira and Diemer stated the nonprofit will "review the police department's response to make recommendations for improving major criminal events, including response to, and investigation of, catastrophic, multiple-victim and/or multiple-witness incidents in the future.”

Diemer also said that she expects the report to look analytically at what the city can do better in its emergency responses and how it can follow the best protocols moving forward.

“This was a case of lessons learned,” she said, anticipating some of the contents of the report. “We’re expecting it to be critical in regard to the city’s response of that night.”

In the meantime, the Justice for Josiah committee continues to hold monthly vigils observing the anniversary of Lawson’s death and to remind the community his killing remains unsolved. The 33rd such vigil will be held at Arcata City Hall today at 5:30 p.m..

Charmaine Lawson, Lawson’s mother, continues to visit Humboldt County regularly, vowing to find both justice for her son and answers as to what went wrong the night he was killed.

“Happy Justice Year to all!” reads a Justice for Josiah Facebook post. “I will not stop coming to Humboldt County until justice is served for my son.”
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Monday, December 16, 2019

EPD Investigation: Fatal Hit-and-Run on Broadway

Posted By on Mon, Dec 16, 2019 at 11:30 AM

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The Eureka Police Department is looking for the driver of at least one vehicle that is believed to have fatally struck a woman crossing Broadway just south of 14th Street after 8 p.m. on Sunday and left the scene without stopping.

According to EPD, witnesses said Ashley Madonia, 36, was hit while she walked outside of the crosswalk. Officers who arrived began life-saving efforts, which were continued by Humboldt Bay Fire and City Ambulance personnel. She was transported to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.

The vehicles believed to be involved were described as a white, newer model lifted Chevrolet Silverado and a gray or silver mid-2000s model four-door sedan.

EPD said Madonia’s family has been notified.

The investigation into her death is active and EPD is asking anyone with information to contact Senior Detective Amber Cosetti at acosetti@ci.eureka.ca.gov or (707) 441-4315.

Read the EPD release below:


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Monday, December 9, 2019

Three Years After Jennika Lee Suazo Was Found Dead, Her Family Awaits Justice

Posted By on Mon, Dec 9, 2019 at 1:29 PM

Three years ago today, 18-year-old Jennika Lee Suazo was found dead in her home on P Street in Eureka. She was last seen on Dec. 8, 2016. After her cause of death was determined to be asphyxia, the Eureka Police Department began investigating her death as a homicide.
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Her mother, Jennie Lee Seipp, said that how hard it is to wait for news of movement in solving her daughter’s death. “It’s coming on [three] years of her horrible passing … still no news from E.P.D. or Department of Justice.”

Eureka Police spokesperson Brittany Powell said Saturday, “We are working with the Department of Justice on forensic and DNA evidence. Once all of the evidence has been evaluated and all results are received, we will follow up with any new leads and present the report to the District Attorney’s Office for review and recommendations.”

Powell said solving Suazo’s homicide has required thorough police work.

“The Eureka Police Department is working diligently to resolve this investigation and bring Jennika’s killer to justice,” she said in a prepared statement. “Working through investigations where there were no eyewitnesses or other immediate identifying suspect information are time-consuming and require a level of thoroughness above and beyond most investigations to ensure a case can be filed and prosecuted in front of a jury.”

The EPD asks anyone with information to contact Senior Detective Cosetti at acosetti@ci.eureka.ca.gov.
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Friday, December 6, 2019

AG Won't Take Lawson Case

Posted By on Fri, Dec 6, 2019 at 3:10 PM

The California Attorney General's Office has informed Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming that it will not be taking responsibility for any possible prosecution related to the 2017 killing of David Josiah Lawson.

David Josiah Lawson - SUBMITTED
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  • David Josiah Lawson
"Absent a reusable conflict of interest, the Attorney General's Office generally only takes over a prosecution handled by a district attorney when there is an abuse of discretion," reads the letter penned by Senior Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Laurence. "The district attorney is given broad discretion in prosecuting criminal cases because she is the official who has been elected by that county to act as its public prosecutor. Based on our internal review of the case, we could not find evidence that you abused your discretion in how you handled the prosecution of this case."

Fleming reached out to the Attorney General's Office back in April, just weeks after a criminal grand jury convened to look at evidence in the Humboldt State University sophomore's killing declined to indict anyone in the case. In her request, Fleming maintained that her office had "made the right decisions and taken appropriate actions at ever step" in the case but was asking for the AG's intervention because public perception of her office's handling of the case had been "influenced by misinformation in the public arena from people with legal or law enforcement backgrounds who have been involved with the case."

Lawson was fatally stabbed around 3 a.m. on April 15, 2017, at an off-campus party. A then 23-year-old McKinleyville man, Kyle Zoellner, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson's murder but a Humboldt County Superior Court judge ruled weeks later there was insufficient evidence to hold him to stand trial and dismissed the case. Zoellner was also the focus of the criminal grand jury convened in February but the jury, in an outcome legal experts deemed rare, declined to hand up an indictment in the case.

Protests followed the grand jury's decision, with some — including Lawson's mother, Charmaine Lawson — publicly calling for Fleming's recall and pleading with the Attorney General's Office to intercede in the case.

The case — currently Arcata's only unsolved homicide — remains under investigation, with Charmaine Lawson and Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn having recently recorded a PSA pleading for witnesses to come forward.

In the letter, Laurence notes the office is "deeply saddened" by Lawson's "tragic death" and offers condolences to the Lawson family and the local community.

"We mourn the tragic loss of Mr. Lawsons' life," the letter states. "However, we could not find evidence that calls for the Department of Justice's intervention in the case, and will not be taking any further action in this matter."

See the full press release from the District Attorney's Office copied below. Fleming's letter to the AG can be found here, with the AG's reply here.


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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

APD: Driver Sought in Suspected 'Intentional Assault' for Hitting Victim with Car

Posted By on Wed, Dec 4, 2019 at 3:59 PM

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The Arcata Police Department is searching for a driver who is believed to have been intentionally struck another man with a vehicle around 2:30 p.m. today in a case of assault with a deadly weapon, Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn said.

The victim was driving his vehicle with his adult son in the car when he believed he was cut off by a driver in another vehicle, Ahearn said. The victim followed the suspect vehicle to southbound H Street where it crossed over Samoa before stopping.

“The victim got out his car to get the suspect vehicle’s license plate,” Ahearn said. “The suspect sped toward the victim striking the victim who then rolled up on the hood of the suspect vehicle and rolled off the vehicle.”

Ahearn said the victim had moderate injuries. that were non-life-threatening. He was transported while conscious and alert to Mad River Community Hospital.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

APD Chief, Charmaine Lawson Ask Witnesses to Come Forward

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 4:01 PM

Charmaine Lawson speaks to the crowd gathered to honor her son and demands justice for him on the second anniversary of his killing. - FILE
  • File
  • Charmaine Lawson speaks to the crowd gathered to honor her son and demands justice for him on the second anniversary of his killing.
The mother of slain Humboldt State University student David Josiah Lawson has joined with Arcata Police Chief Brian Ahearn to tape a public service message asking for any witnesses to his April 15, 2017 stabbing to contact the department.

In the short clip, Charmaine Lawson says, “There is DNA evidence from the knife used to kill my son. Now we need eyewitnesses to come forth to help us get justice for Josiah."

Together, Charmaine Lawson and Ahern end the message by saying, “We need your help.” Listen to the audio below.
David Josiah Lawson - SUBMITTED
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November marks 31 months since the 19-year-old criminology major was killed at a house party on Spear Avenue in Arcata.

Kyle Zoellner, a then 23-year-old McKinleyville man, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder, but Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen later found insufficient evidence to hold him and the charge was dropped.

In February of this year, a criminal grand jury convened to consider charging Zoellner declined to hand up any indictments in the case, a rare outcome in such proceedings.

Charmaine Lawson has remained outspoken in her quest to find the person who killed her son, traveling to Humboldt County from Southern California almost monthly to host vigils.

The APD release about the public service message states that the ongoing investigation indicates there are witnesses from the party who have not yet been interviewed.

“Those who were present but have not yet been interviewed may have information, unbeknownst to them, that could assist in the overall investigation,” the release states.

Read the full release from the Arcata Police Department below:


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Four Pounds of Heroin Seized by Humboldt County Drug Task Force

Posted By on Tue, Nov 26, 2019 at 12:23 PM

Four pounds of heroin found in the vehicle of Jessie Kate Hawk. - HUMBOLDT COUNTY DRUG TASK FORCE
  • Humboldt County Drug Task Force
  • Four pounds of heroin found in the vehicle of Jessie Kate Hawk.

The Humboldt County Drug Task Force apprehended 4 pounds of “suspected heroin packaged for sale” during a traffic stop last week in Southern Humboldt.


Jessie Kate Hawk, 38, and David Eugene Couch, 62, were identified as suspects and detained. The two were stopped on U.S. Highway 101 near Miranda after agent were able to secure a search warrant “for vehicles occupied by Hawk.”

The warrant was obtained after a "multi-week investigation," during which HCDTF agents received information that Hawk had been suspected of distributing heroin in Humboldt County. 


According to the release, Hawk and Couch both have medical conditions that would not allow for booking and they were released from the scene. However, HCDTF agents will be submitting their reports to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office for prosecution for transportation and possession of controlled substances for sale.


Read the full press release below:
PRESS RELEASE
Last week the Humboldt County Drug Task Force (HCDTF) seized approximately 4 pounds of suspected heroin in Southern Humboldt County. The suspects in the case were identified as Jessie Kate Hawk (aka “JK” age 38) and David Eugene Couch (age 62).

On November 20th, 2019, at approximately 9:45 p.m., HCDTF special agents conducted a traffic stop on Highway 101 near the Miranda exit. During their multi-week investigation, agents received information that one of the occupants of the vehicle, Jessie Kate Hawk, is distributing heroin throughout Humboldt County. Through their investigation, HCDTF agents were able to secure a search warrant for vehicles occupied by Hawk.

During the traffic stop, agents detained both Hawk and Couch without incident. Agents searched the vehicle pursuant to the search warrant and located approximately 4 pounds of suspected heroin packaged for sales.

Hawk and Couch (attached are previous booking photographs) both had medical conditions that would not allow for booking and they were subsequently released from the scene. Agents will be submitting their reports to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office requesting prosecution on these suspects for transportation and possession of controlled substances for sales.

Anyone with information related to this investigation or other narcotics related crimes are encouraged to call the Humboldt County Drug Task Force at 707-267-9976 or the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office Tip Line at 707-268-2539.
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Saturday, November 16, 2019

Charmaine Lawson Holds 31-month Vigil for Her Son, Hopes Documentary Will Bring Outside Attention to Unsolved Case

Posted By on Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 10:30 AM

It has been 31 months since Humboldt State University sophomore David Josiah Lawson was killed.

On Friday, the anniversary of her 19-year-old son’s death, a group of a few dozen students and community members surrounded Charmaine Lawson at a small vigil at the Arcata Methodist Church, during which the group watched Who Killed Josiah?, a short documentary by the Southern California station KCET that they hope will bring renewed attention to the still-unsolved killing. (Find the documentary embedded below.)

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The documentary describes Arcata as a town “polarized over allegations of racism and police incompetence surrounding the death of college student Josiah Lawson.” For Charmaine Lawson, the documentary is an emotional roller coaster.

“Watching it the first time was heartbreaking,” she says. “When I saw the documentary the first time, I didn’t talk to anyone for two weeks. I was in another zone — very difficult to watch.”

David Josiah Lawson, a criminology major from the city of Perris in Riverside County, was stabbed to death at an off-campus party around 3 a.m. April 15th 2017. Kyle Zoellner, a then 23-year-old McKinleyville man, was arrested at the scene and charged with Lawson’s murder but the charge was dismissed weeks later, when Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholsten found insufficient evidence to hold him.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Fortuna Police: Evidence Indicates Students had the 'Means' to Carry Out Attack

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 2:30 PM

The two male Fortuna High School students arrested yesterday afternoon for allegedly plotting to harm fellow students may have had the means to carry out the attack, Fortuna Police Chief Bill Dobberstein told the Journal after a press conference this morning.

“There is some evidence that they did have the means,” Dobberstein said, adding the extent of those means is still under investigation.

The police chief declined to answer whether that meant access to firearms or other weapons, but said evidence collected last night at the suspects’ homes, one in Rio Dell and one in Fortuna, indicated the students may have had what they needed to follow through with their plot. Dobberstein also said at this point there are no additional suspects in the case and he doesn’t believe there is any ongoing threat to the public.
Fortuna Union High School District Superintendent Glen Senestraro spoke to parents about how they were notified of the incident and the short notice between the announcement and the press conference. - MARK MCKENNA
  • Mark McKenna
  • Fortuna Union High School District Superintendent Glen Senestraro spoke to parents about how they were notified of the incident and the short notice between the announcement and the press conference.
At a joint press conference, Dobberstein and Fortuna Union High School District Superintendent Glen Senestraro stressed that they are limited in what they can release to the public at this point, noting the suspects are juveniles and have certain confidentiality protections and that they don’t want to jeopardize the ongoing investigation.

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Alleged Plot to 'Harm' Students Thwarted at Fortuna High School

Posted By on Wed, Oct 23, 2019 at 11:05 AM

FUHSD
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Two minors are being held at Juvenile Hall after Fortuna police and Fortuna High School thwarted what they believe was a plot to “harm other students,” according to a joint press release.

According to the release, the high school received information of the possible plot yesterday afternoon. The two students were quickly detained, with “information found on their persons indicating the validity to the original report.” The students were taken into custody and search warrants were served at both their homes, according to the release.

Details are minimal at this point but the school and police department plan to hold a joint press conference at noon today. Police ask anyone with information pertinent to the investigation to call 725-7550.

See the full press release copied below:

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