Judge finds there was probable cause to arrest Zoellner, throws out jury’s $750k award

Correction: The headline was corrected to clarify the judge’s decision regarding the lawsuit. We regret the error. Oct. 20, 2022

Federal Judge, Jacqueline Scott Corley ruled that Kyle Zoellner, the main suspect in the 2017 murder of David Josiah Lawson, will receive no money from the city of Arcata or Eric Losey, a former Arcata Police detective. This decision comes five days after a jury in San Francisco tentatively awarded Kyle Zoellner $776,300 in a lawsuit against the city of Arcata and Losey regarding malicious prosecution.

Judge Corley wrote on page 11 of her order, “Mr. Zoellner bears the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that no reasonable officer with Mr. Losey’s knowledge would have believed there was a fair probability that Mr. Zoellner stabbed Mr. Lawson. Mr. Zoellner has not met that burden. A reasonable officer could believe there was a fair probability Mr. Zoellner stabbed Mr. Lawson based on the undisputed evidence at trial… As Mr. Zoellner has not satisfied the lack of probable cause element of his malicious prosecution claim, the claim fails and judgment must be entered in Mr. Losey’s favor.”

Charmaine Lawson, mother of David Josiah Lawson — an HSU student who was murdered at an off campus party in 2017 — said she was “beyond excited,” in a telephone interview with El Leñador today. She also spoke about the future plans for the case.

“I’m waiting to speak with the city attorney and see how we can move forward now with the criminal piece, because if you have a federal judge look at the evidence, and the evidence that was presented was only from April 15 to May 5,” she said, noting that they did not include any of the available DNA evidence. “We have more evidence to prove that they had probable cause, we have more evidence to prove he is the only suspect in the murder of my son.”

She also acknowledged that this decision was not the end in the struggle for getting her son justice. In a message sent to El Leñador Charmaine asked students to write letters to the following officials regarding the murder of David Josiah Lawson.

  • Humboldt District Attorney: districtattorney@co.humboldt.ca.us
  • California Department of Justice: piu@doj.ca.gov
  • Congressman Jared Huffman: 317 Third Street Suite 1, Sacramento, CA 95814
  • Governor Gavin Newsom: 1021 O street, Suite 9000, Sacramento, CA 95814
Andre Ramos (left) and Charmaine Lawson (right) speaking at the Oct. 15 vigil in the Arcata Plaza. Photo by Peyton Leone

October 15 vigil in Arcata

Last Saturday, Charmaine Lawson held a vigil for her son at the Arcata Plaza. During the vigil Lawson and Andre Ramos, a former police officer and mentor to David Josiah Lawson, spoke about attending the lawsuit hearing where jurors awarded Kyle Zoellner damages on Oct. 12. 

“I saw Kyle Zoellner and he showed absolutely no remorse. He actually looked at me and smiled, and that was the hardest thing to see that you murdered my child, and now you’re suing for money, and now you are awarded money,” said Lawson.

Ramos and other attendees at the event discussed the need for witnesses to come forward and speak to authorities so that progress can be made on the case against Zoellner.

“We believe that some people are a little afraid to come forward because they had a part in it. They are concerned law enforcement may come back to try and arrest them,” Ramos said. “If you know anyone that knows something encourage them to come on out, talk to the police, talk to us, because it’s easy to get immunity on what you did through your testimony.”

Dillon Avery Harp speaking to the crowd at the Oct. 15 vigil in the Arcata Plaza. Photo by Peyton Leone

Dillon Avery Harp, a current CPH student, spoke to the crowd about the constant need for building and maintaining community within the CPH student body to prevent cases such as these from happening again. Harp acknowledged that not everyone present at the vigil could relate to the Black experience, but anyone can appreciate David Josiah Lawson’s dedication to his education. 

“When you see a Black, Brown, Indigenous person attempting to better their own life with education, they’re doing it for this collective community and every community that they touch,” said Harp.

Jason Robert, a resident in the area since 2008, said he wants more members of the community to come out to these gatherings.

“There should be a lot more people from the city of Arcata that grew up here, lived here a long time, coming out and standing up with this dear sweet mother. It’s embarrassing to me that there’s not more people that are old, the young people are having to come out solely to stand up for this young man,” said Robert. “I feel like this park should be completely full of residents of this area.” 

Another Justice for Josiah supporter, who wished to remain anonymous, came forward to speak about the case and its impact on the area.

“What happens with her son is important to the history of this place, and when we get justice for Josiah we’re going to continue to get justice for all missing and murdered people here in Humboldt County,” the supporter said.

There will be Justice for Josiah vigils on the 15th of every month. If it is a weekday then the vigil will be at the Eureka courthouse, if it falls on a weekend then the vigil will be held in the Arcata Plaza.

Supporters of Justice for Josiah hold out their hands in support of Charmaine and her family. Photo by Peyton Leone

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