Arcata, CA

Teen Stabbed At A College Party Has Case Unsolved For 5 Years

Jeffery Mac

The Story

Nineteen-year-old David Josiah Lawson was studying Criminology at HSU (Humboldt State University, located in Northern California in the small town of Arcata). Lawson was the president of the Brothers United, an on-campus group that formed as a result of the unsolved murder of a Black HSU student, Cory Clark in 2001 (there is, unfortunately, a lack of information on his case). The group’s goal was to provide support for Black men in the predominately white institution — and predominantly white area — in which they felt there was more support needed.

On April 15th, 2017 Josiah and members of the Brothers United were attending an off-campus party when they were approached by a group of white locals and accused of stealing one of their phones. One of the locals demanded that they empty their pockets. An altercation began that left Josiah Lawson pepper-sprayed and stabbed multiple times.

It was reported by many who attended the party that instead of prioritizing Josiah Lawson’s survival the police who arrived on the scene focused on “crowd control”. Josiah’s friends were the ones who took action to save Josiah’s life. Paramedics didn’t arrive until 20 minutes after they were called. The police scanner that night revealed that the police on the scene delayed the EMT's response to do crowd control.

“Audio scanner traffic recorded on April 15 from 3 to 4 a.m. documents a series of officer/dispatcher exchanges. First police at the scene variously reported “a very aggressive crowd,” “a large group of angry individuals” and “possible violence involved.”

Elijah Chandler — a friend of Josiah’s — claims that he heard two women wishing for his death to take place. “They were saying, ‘I really wish that [N-word] does die. I really hope that [N-word] dies.’ They just kept repeating it, and I heard this as I am giving Josiah compressions to fight for his life,”.


Kyle Zoellner — the student Josiah had the altercation with — was arrested that night for the stabbing. However, the charges were dismissed by Superior Court Judge Dale Reinholtsen just 16 days later. Reinholtsen underscored that none of the witnesses who testified either saw a knife or saw the stabbing. Nor was there any testimony that the knife was in the possession of or the property of Zoellner. Both the prosecution and the defense agreed that a single fingerprint and some cloth fibers lifted from the knife did not match either Zoellner’s fingerprints or the hoodie he was said to be wearing at the time of the stabbing.

Josiah’s mother, Charmaine Lawson visits every month to push for progress regarding the case of her slain son. Charmaine has also been working with students to ensure that HSU administration, Arcata Police department, and City Council address issues of student safety and racism in Arcata. She wrote a piece for the North Coast Journal in which she voices her frustration with what she felt like was a lackluster investigation. She concluded her article by saying:

“Overall, I am thankful for the support that I have received in pursuing justice for my son DJ. This fight will continue until I get justice for David Josiah Lawson. My son was a loving, caring, compassionate and ambitious man with integrity. He understood that it is not about the quantity in one’s life, but the quality of how you treat others around you. Although this journey has been hard, I will continue to make sure that his legacy lives on. My son was destined for greatness, and that is how he will be remembered.”

What Now?

On July 7th, 2021, the Lawson Family and the City of Arcata reached a confidential settlement on a lawsuit. Part of the agreement between the two parties was a collaboration to donate $25,000 to a scholarship fund in David’s name. Tragically, the case still remains unsolved. The Arcata Police Department is offering a $55,000 reward for any information leading to Lawson’s murderer. To show your support for the Lawson family, visit the Facebook page here:

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Writer focusing on unsolved cases and missing persons of color.

Hicksville, NY

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