Arcata Addresses Lawson Case Following Key Resignations

Apr 11, 2018

Community members questioned Arcata City Manager about the safety of black people and people of color within the city. They also asked how the Chief's resignation would impact the David Josiah Lawson murder case.

Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman resigned on Tuesday, nearly 24 hours after former FBI agent Tom Parker, who was involved with the David Josiah Lawson murder case, also resigned.

Chapman released a short statement on his resignation which was effective April 10, 2018.

"I am resigning my employment with the city of Arcata as Chief of Police. it has been a pleasure working for the city for the past 24 years. I will forever cherish the memories. Thank you," Chapmen wrote. 

About 25 to 35 members of the #JusticeForJosiah movement and the community surrounded the Arcata City Hall and city officials took questions on what would happen to the case now that two key members of the investigation resigned. City Manager Karen Diemer answered questions at city hall. She said both decisions by the chief and former FBI agent were made independent of each other. 

"The police chief had come to a decision prior to any knowledge of Tom Parker's final decision to step back from the case. The fact that they fell within 24 hours, that piece really is maybe unfortunate, but they were not coordinated in any way. That I can assure you," Diemer said. 

Many within the room questioned whether or not this would affect the ongoing investigation. 

"We certainly had hoped all of us to be farther along in this case, but I also have to share with you it is not uncommon for homicide investigations to take a long period of time," Diemer said. "But my heart tells me that their is more than one person out there that knows what happened that night." 

Diemer also said the future of the investigation will now be led by four people, including members of the Arcata Police Department-- Lieutenant Todd Dockweiler and Officer Chris Ortega-- and District Attorney Investigators Office, which include Wayne Cox and Gary Cooper. 

One speaker said she didn't understand how the city could continue to lie to them. 

"I don't think you understand or even care about, like, how we really honestly feel. We've been crying to your face for over a year. I just don't understand. I don't understand how you can sit here and be so calm and keep continuing to (expletive) lie to us. You're lying to us right now and that's honestly just how I feel," she said. 

After more than two hours of public debate with the city attorney, and later in the meeting Arcata City Mayor Sofia Pereira, the conference concluded with a flurry of questions. Citizens asked how the city would choose another Police Chief, is the city safe for people of color, if the Arcata City Council would censure Council member Michael Winkler for statements made in the wake of the McKinley decision, and how the city would present new information on the case, provided the Department of Justice completes their investigation of the evidence from the murder scene. 

Diemer ended the press conference saying that the city does work on the investigation everyday and that she will work with city officials to see what new information they could release in the future.

Humboldt State University Police Chief Donn Peterson commented on the matter as well. UPD is currently working with Arcata Police on the investigation. 

"I wish Tom the very best of luck. He's had a long and distinguished career, approaching 25 years and he has served this community the entirety of that time and I wish him well in retirement," Peterson said and reiterated that the relationship between APD and UPD was outstanding and the officers collaboration on issues will continue.  

"The Arcata Police Department is going to persevere and they're going to continue to investigate this," he said. "You only get one shot at this and it's not something you want to do lightly." 

Additionally, Tom Parker, a retired FBI agent contracted by the city to assist with the investigation, spoke with KQED's The California Report on whether or not Chapman's resignation was related to his own. 

"Whether it was connected or not, you know, people can draw their own conclusions," Parker said. "A local team had been put together to investigate the case and I just did not have the confidence that that was the proper team to move forward with the case."

Parker further stated there did not seem to be any direction to the investigation and that some of the steps taken were not normal for this type of case. 

"I saw no leadership coming from the top. And there were other investigating steps that were being taken that really didn't make a lot of sense, which were outside of the recommendations that I'd been making and really were somewhat outside what a normal investigative progression would have been for a case like this," he said. 

The anniversary of the death of David Josiah Lawson is on April 15th and a celebration of his life is planned for this weekend at 4:30 p.m. at the D St. Community Center.