APD to provide investigation update on anniversary of Lawson's death

CLARIFICATION: Aug. 9, 2018 11:06 a.m.

The Arcata Police Department's announcement at Wednesday's upcoming city council meeting will be a status update on the investigation. The interim chief would like us to clarify, this will be a regular update, not a major announcement. The department will be discussing additional resources they have brought in to help with the case.


Next Wednesday - one week from today - marks the 16-month anniversary of David Josiah Lawson's murder, and police still have no suspect(s) in custody for the crime.

Arcata Police Department Interim Chief Richard Ehle has now been overseeing the investigation for two months. After accepting the position at the beginning of June, he said the case was one of his top priorities.

Former Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman resigned back in April, only days before the crime's one-year anniversary. He stepped down in the face of a frustrated community, both outraged and critical of the way he handled the investigation. The department's new leadership says they've had to start from square one, examining the evidence with no one in custody.

"Those requests for processing evidence often times go back to the bottom of the pile because DOJ has hundreds, if not thousands of requests for in-custody subjects," Ehle said. "Those requests rise to the surface; our requests, apparently, went back down into the pile."

Despite that setback, the department has regrouped and recovered, making headway on some crucial pieces of evidence.

"We do have DNA results on the knife," Ehle said. "We're looking at other evidence that's been collected and processed."

That also means circling back around and interviewing all persons of interest relevant to the case.

"There's a lot of people at that scene," Ehle said. "There were some recommendations from Tom Parker, who evaluated the case previously, that we continue to make contacts with those people. We're doing that."

Tom Parker is a former FBI special investigator who also resigned from the case back in April, citing his frustrations with how the investigation was being handled by APD under its former leadership. There's been outcry from the community to get him back on the case. While Ehle says they've been consulting Parker for direction and support, the department does not plan to bring him back officially.

"There was a pre-existing situation before I got here, where there's a city attorney and others who decided that it's best if he not be further involved in the case," Ehle said. "I'm here for a short while, and I don't want to have to deal with those issues and fight Mr. Parker's battles for him."

Ehle also spoke to the issue of transparency. He says the department has never held anything back, and that certain details of the case can never be disclosed, since it's an ongoing investigation.

"There's going to be a defense at some point in this case. Why would we put out that information and telegraph it so the defense can start making alibis and start gathering their witnesses and such?" Ehle said. "Why would we compromise the investigation? If we do that, we're going to lose the DA as a partner. They have categorically said, as they should, stop talking, stop putting out specific information on this case. You don't do it. It's a no-no. It's an absolute no-no. There's no transparency in investigations, and Mr. Parker knows that because he dealt with white collar crime on a big scale with the FBI."

Ehle also added the department continues to look at multiple suspect and accessories both during and after the fact, including a further pursuit of the case's initial suspect, Kyle Zoellner.

"This is a complete re-investigation of every aspect of this case, and in that regard, we've brought in a lot of help," Ehle said.

Ehle says the department will be giving Arcata City Council a major update on the case at next Wednesday's meeting, but there's no indication on what that announcement will be.

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