Arcata Woman to Agree to Plea Deal in Death of Infant Child; Prosecution, Defense Agree That Misztal Was Mentally Ill

Rhonda Parker / Thursday, Feb. 8 @ 11:28 a.m. / Courts

An Arcata woman is expected to plead guilty tomorrow to killing her 7-week-old daughter, who died from head injuries on Aug. 27, 2016.

Misztal.

Ewa Misztal, 30, will admit to voluntary manslaughter and child abuse, Deputy Public Defender Casey Russo told Judge Dale Reinholtsen at a hearing this morning. The defense and prosecution have agreed, however, that Misztal meets the criteria for not guilty by reason of insanity. She will likely be sent to a treatment program rather than prison.

Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Schaffer told the judge the plea bargain was made because of Misztal’s mental illness, and also “in consideration of the wishes of the deceased child’s father and the Arcata Police Department.”

Misztal had been charged with child abuse leading to death, which could have meant life in prison if she had been convicted. She has been in Humboldt County Correctional Facility since the day her daughter died.

Misztal is a Polish national but had been living in an apartment in Arcata with her daughter Gigi Misztal. The infant suffered multiple skull fractures and was pronounced dead at Mad River Community Hospital shortly after being rushed there by ambulance.

Misztal reportedly told police she had accidentally hit the baby’s head on a door frame.

But the doctor who performed the child’s autopsy stated it was doubtful that would have caused such severe injuries.

In addition to the skull fractures, Gigi Misztal had a scraped nose and bruising on her calves and left hand.

###

PREVIOUSLY


MORE →


PEOPLE! Let’s Not Freak Out Too Much About Humboldt’s State-Highest Rate of Missing Persons Reports, OK?

Hank Sims / Thursday, Feb. 8 @ 7:09 a.m. / News

Last week, people around the world were having lots of fun with the North Coast Journal’s big scoop. That scoop was: A woman who was reported missing in Humboldt County while supposedly working at a weed farm a few months ago, and who was included on state and local lists of missing persons, was located by one of the NCJ’s own Facebook friends, safe and sound, on a major reality television show.

Fun! This was a fun story. It was made yet more fun by a press release the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office issued in the aftermath. The press release laid out in great detail the Rube Goldberg-like chain of events that left Rebekah Martinez on the Sheriff’s Office missing persons list, even though, in the intervening months, her family had reported her safe and sound, and even though millions had since been bewitched by her pixie haircut – the first in the 21-season history of The Bachelor, as The New York Times informed us.

Strangely, though, the Journal seems not to find all this as fun as everyone does. And that is because it believes that the fun obscures the splashy investigative work featured in this last week’s issue — and now this week’s — which purports to explore what the Journal calls “the highest rate of missing persons reports in the state.” This is a number that the Journal wants you to be troubled by. 

Writer Linda Stansberry explains her disappointment with the fun machine here:

Did that get your attention? Good. Then click on the Journal’s story, there, if you haven’t yet, because it is a pretty nifty story that, apparently against its own author’s wishes, shows that a statistic like “highest missing persons reports per capita” is just about meaningless, especially when taken out of context. Subsequent events – the unearthing of Rebekah Martinez and two more of what the Journal had dubbed the “Humboldt 35,” one of them a guy found living here in Eureka blessedly ignorant of his own missingness – have underscored this point handily. It’s strange that the Journal resists the conclusions of its own reporting.

An actual missing-persons cold case is one of the most heartbreaking and terrifying things imaginable. The Journal illustrates such cases in all their terribleness very well, both in this week’s issue and last week’s.

However, the Journal does those cases a disservice when it tries to make them illustrative of missing persons reports, which come and go as cheaply as you please. Rebekah Martinez is far more emblematic of those reports than any actually missing person. It’s hard to clap for attention, though, when your story is mostly about California’s highest rate of people who don’t return their moms’ phone calls.

###

The Journal’s reporting leans hard on two sets of data. They are both flawed by nature, they became more flawed through the Journal’s incomplete and sometimes erroneous reporting, and they barely have anything to do with one another.

The first set is the number of people reported missing in counties across the state, per capita, since 2000. “Missing persons reports,” as the Journal wrote, are filed in any number of cases — runaway kids, people hiding from their exes, people killed in catastrophic events, people with a simple desire to be off the grid for a while. All it takes is someone not able to find someone else, and a phone call to a law enforcement agency.

Humboldt has the highest per-capita rate of such reports. That’s true, and that’s the nut of the Journal‘s reportage.

But you know what else Humboldt County had the highest rate of, over that period of time? It had the highest per-capita rate of found people. Far more people were found here, per capita, than anywhere else in the state.

Average annual reports of FOUND people who were once reported missing per 100,000 population in sampled California counties, 2000-2017.*
HUMBOLDT670.11st
TULARE640.12nd
MERCED613.93rd
KERN608.84th
STATE AVERAGE361.9
RIVERSIDE355.430th
SAN FRANCISCO337.034th
LOS ANGELES300.442nd

Yowza. We sure do find a lot of people! That’s better than 85 percent more than the statewide per-capita rate of found people. For all the time and energy the Journal expended on the number of missing persons reports, it’s odd that it never chose to share these numbers — about the resolution of those reports — at all. 

You might think: Hey, so a lot of people are reported missing here, and a lot of those people are subsequently found here. So maybe everything balances out?

It more than balances out. In point of fact, we do much better at finding missing people than the state as a whole does. Here is a table of selected California counties ranked by their rate of missing persons cases filed that are unresolved by the end of the year:

Percentage of people reported missing who were not subsequently found in the same calendar year in sampled California counties, 2000-2017.*
IMPERIAL11.2%1st
FRESNO10.8%2nd
ALPINE10.7%3rd
SAN BERNARDINO10.5%4th
STATE AVERAGE6.9%
NAPA5.7%33rd
HUMBOLDT5.7%34th
KERN5.6%36th
MENDOCINO5.2%39th

Not too shabby. Despite the volume of calls our county handles (per capita), Humboldt clears its missing persons reports about 17 percent more often than the state as a whole.

And now you might think: OK, so we’re actually doing a lot better than the rest of the state, comparatively speaking, but 5.7 percent of missing persons reports not cleared is still a lot of missing people here in Humboldt. 

And that would be a lot of people — about 54 per year — were that the case. You’d be forgiven for thinking it’s the case if you only got your information from the Journal, which wrongly refers to these as “open cases” in one of the graphs in this week’s paper, which is also one of the few places the Journal references statistics on found people at all. [See correction, below. — Ed.]

They are not open cases, though. Please refer to the fine print in the tables above. These are open cases plus cases that were opened and then closed in different calendar years. As the Attorney General’s missing persons page puts it:

The statistics in the following reports are gathered from missing person entries and cancellations made by law enforcement agencies in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Missing Persons System … The counts for each of the ‘status’ reports is based on cancellations during the same year the entry was made.

The Outpost followed up with the AG’s office this week to make sure that this says what it seems to say — that the “status” reports, or the reports on missing person cases closed — apply only to people lost and found in the same calendar year. It does.

So from the outside we have no way of knowing how much of each category — still-missing persons, people since found — are lumped into that number. That’s a serious flaw in the statistics we have about actual missing person cases. But it’s a pretty safe bet, given how often we find people in the calendar year, that many or most of them fall into the latter category. You already know about three such cases — Rebekah Martinez and her two fellow members of the “Humboldt (formerly) 35.”

Because the Journal doesn’t talk much about the missing persons reports that have been closed —  however imperfect that data is — it doesn’t have much to say about the state those people were found in. It does talk, at one point, about the people found dead, presumably because that sounds scary, but the overwhelming majority were just fine. Here are Humboldt County’s numbers from 2017, which are representative:

Same-year resolved adult missing persons cases by outcome. Humboldt County, 2017*
RETURNED177
LOCATED119
DECEASED7
ARRESTED7
VOLUNTARILY MISSING23
WITHDRAWN/INVALID10
OTHER42
UNKNOWN1
TOTAL386

To sum it up: 429 times last year, someone called up one of Humboldt County’s law enforcement agencies to report someone missing. In 386 of those cases, the person was found within the calendar year. In seven of those cases, the person was found dead — either from suicide, foul play, tragedy or simple, unsuspicious death — and in every other case the person was alive and (probably) well.

Forty-three of those people were not found before New Year’s Day, which represents a much lower ratio of cases unresolved by that deadline than could be found in the state as a whole. One of them was a burgeoning reality show superstar. [See correction number two, below. — Ed.]

###

Spend some time with these numbers, and you’ll see why it’s puzzling that the Journal basically only chose to share one side of the story the numbers tell with its readers (the high proportion of cases filed, compared to other counties) without telling the other side (the even higher proportion of cases resolved).

But it’s even weirder that the Journal places those record statistics alongside stories of people who have actually gone missing and stayed missing over the years. We’re talking about cold cases, rather than surly teenage runaways who shamble back home after a few hours or freespirited young folk up in the hills and off the grid.

The headline of the Journal’s first story was “The Humboldt 35: Why does Humboldt County have the highest rate of missing persons reports in the state?” Reading it like that, you’d think the two things have something to do with one another. They really don’t. The first part is about the horrifying cases that leave families in a state of emotional paralysis; the second part — as we saw above — is almost all about people who are not missing for very long.

 “The Humboldt 35” came from the second set of data that the Journal relied upon for their story — a non-comprehensive list of missing persons cases, spread out over a number of decades, that the state attorney general chose to feature on its website. There’s no reason to think that these 35 — now 32 and falling — represent a higher proportion of actual cold-case missing people than the state as a whole. 

A Facebook message the Outpost received Wednesday.

And even if it feels like a high number to you, you should be aware that it doesn’t represent what you and I — and the families of the people listed — might think of as “missing person cases,” or Humboldt County missing persons cases. A number of the people listed there are people known for certain to be dead, either through violence or tragedy. At least two of them were lost at sea. They’re included in the “missing persons list” because their bodies were never found — a tragedy, certainly, but a tragedy of a different sort than a family left in uncertainty. Another of them went missing in Nevada, but gets lumped into Humboldt County’s missing person list because he was from here.

All this is only to underline the fact that the statistics we are given to work with here are really sloppy and bad, and that when they do say something they often say the opposite of what the Journal seems to want them to say.

The Journal, on its face, wants them to say: Look at these missing people. See their pictures. Read their names. We have the highest rate in the state.

But what the numbers say in fact, when you add in the ones that the Journal chose not to share and correct the ones it misread, is: A lot of people file missing persons reports in Humboldt County. Fortunately the vast majority of them end happily, as best we can tell, and we clear them up at a pace that far exceeds the state average.

The Journal’s efforts to bring public attention to the cases of people who have gone missing in suspicious circumstances — Jeff Joseph, Sheila Franks, Robert Tennison and others — is obviously laudable.

Less laudable is its impulse to tart up the incidence of such cases with incomplete, misread and unrelated statistics in order to imply that the Journal has uncovered a troubling trend looming underneath the Humboldt County fog. That’s not what the statistics say at all.

###

CORRECTION: Journal graphic designer Jonathan Webster tweets us to let us know that he got the “open cases” number not from the data we had assumed he had — the attorney general’s hard data about missing persons cases resolved in the same calendar year — but from the same list of missing persons cases featured on the Attorney General’s website that resulted in “the Humboldt 35.”

In a way this is even more problematic, especially when you attempt to use it to compare statistics from county to county, as it is does not purport in any way to be representative of actual “open cases.” It says right there at the top: “DATA LIMITATIONS: This database is a subset of all persons reported as missing by law enforcement in the State of California” (emphasis added). Nevertheless, we regret the error!

###

CORRECTION 2: Journal graphic designer J-Web catches another boo-boo! Though the Humboldt County rate of resolving cases was, in fact, 17 percent higher that the state as a whole over the 18-year period covered in the chart above, Humboldt’s rate of resolving such cases was actually lower than the state’s in calendar year 2017 — numbers from which were unavailable at the time of the Journal’s original story. Error once again regretted. [Addendum: And Webster wants you to know that it was also lower that the state’s in 2017 when only considering adults, too, which is the boo-boo he originally noticed.]



Eureka! Go Walk, Bike and/or Rollerblade on Your Awesome New Trail

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Feb. 7 @ 6 p.m. / Eureka Rising

Maybe take advantage of this unseasonably warm February we’re having and check out the latest section of the Eureka Waterfront Trail sometime this week, hmm? 

Tuesday afternoon nearly a hundred people gathered behind Blue Ox Millworks near the foot of one of the trail’s giant metal causeways for a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Eureka Mayor Frank Jager thanked the people and agencies who played a part in the trail’s construction before taking up the comically large pair of scissors that always seem to find their way to such city events.

Mayor Frank, ribbon cutter

“So let’s officially open this jewel,” Jager said before cutting the red ribbon and ushering people onto the bridge.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” Eureka City Councilmember Kim Bergel said. “It’s such an asset to our city.”

The Eureka Waterfront Trail now extends more than six miles, from Herrick Avenue to Tydd Street.

The purple part is done now, people




Crescent City Breaks Heat Record on This Pleasant February Day

John Ross Ferrara / Wednesday, Feb. 7 @ 4:18 p.m. / How ‘Bout That Weather

Mah lawd (fans face), it’s mild today.

The fine folks at the National Weather Service report that Crescent City set a new record high today with a temperature of 76 degrees, beating the previous record of 72 set in 1987.

Meanwhile, Eureka saw temperatures in the mid 60s today as we continue to enjoy this delightfully sunny February.

Get out your sun hats and mix up some mint juleps, clear skies are forecast for the North Coast for the rest of the week.

NWS.



HSU Prez Rossbacher Now in Charge of Encouraging More Native American Students to Enroll in California Colleges

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Feb. 7 @ 2:30 p.m. / Education

Humboldt State University press release: 

 

Humboldt State University President Lisa Rossbacher has been appointed to lead an initiative to increase the number of students from Tribal Nations who enroll and graduate from the California State University system. CSU Chancellor Timothy P. White announced the appointment this week. 

“I am honored that Chancellor White has asked me to serve as presidential advisor to this important California State University Native American Initiative,” says Rossbacher. “At HSU, our Strategic Plan includes a call to serve and engage with local Tribal Nations. I look forward to interacting with Native American leaders and university campuses throughout the state to improve recruitment, retention, and graduation rates for Native American populations in the CSU.”

Rossbacher

This role includes hosting an annual meeting with representatives from key campuses responsible for academic support and programming for Native American populations; interfacing with Tribal leaders throughout the state; identifying and supporting strategies to improve recruitment, retention, and graduation rates for Native American populations in the CSU; and engaging and supporting faculty, staff, and student research on Native American communities.

The NAI began in March 2006, when the CSU held a summit with leaders representing 40 California tribes to discuss strategies to build a college-going culture among Native American families. Recommendations from the summit included the convening of regional meetings to discuss educational partnerships between CSU campuses and tribal communities.

Humboldt State University was the first campus in the California State University system to offer a baccalaureate degree in Native American Studies. For more than four decades, HSU has provided Native students academic and community support through the Indian Natural Resource, Science & Engineering Program (INRSEP) and Indian Tribal & Education Personnel Program (ITEPP).



HSU Football Star Alex Cappa Invited to 2018 NFL Scouting Combine to Show Off His Mad Skills

John Ross Ferrara / Wednesday, Feb. 7 @ 1:39 p.m. / HSU , LoCO Sports!

Highlights from last year’s combine.

After dazzling scouts during the Reese’s Senior Bowl, Lumberjack left tackle Alex Cappa has officially been invited to the 2018 NFL Draft Combine, a rigorous job interview for the nation’s best college athletes.

At the combine, Cappa and hundreds of other athletes will go through four days of physical tests, which will help scouts, executives, coaches and doctors from all 32 NFL teams determine how early — or not so early — the teams should select these players during the 2018 NFL Draft.

Alex Cappa has high hopes of going from HSU to the NFL | HSU Athletics.

Here are the workouts as described on the NFL’s website:

40-yard dash

The 40-yard dash is the marquee event at the combine. It’s kind of like the 100-meters at the Olympics: It’s all about speed, explosion and watching skilled athletes run great times. These athletes are timed at 10, 20 and 40-yard intervals. What the scouts are looking for is an explosion from a static start.

Bench press

The bench press is a test of strength — 225 pounds, as many reps as the athlete can get. What the NFL scouts are also looking for is endurance. Anybody can do a max one time, but what the bench press tells the pro scouts is how often the athlete frequented his college weight room for the last 3-5 years.

Vertical jump

The vertical jump is all about lower-body explosion and power. The athlete stands flat-footed and they measure his reach. It is important to accurately measure the reach, because the differential between the reach and the flag the athlete touches is his vertical jump measurement.

Broad jump

The broad jump is like being in gym class back in junior high school. Basically, it is testing an athlete’s lower-body explosion and lower-body strength. The athlete starts out with a stance balanced and then he explodes out as far as he can. It tests explosion and balance, because he has to land without moving.

3 cone drill

The 3 cone drill tests an athlete’s ability to change directions at a high speed. Three cones in an L-shape. He starts from the starting line, goes 5 yards to the first cone and back. Then, he turns, runs around the second cone, runs a weave around the third cone, which is the high point of the L, changes directions, comes back around that second cone and finishes.

Shuttle run

The short shuttle is the first of the cone drills. It is known as the 5-10-5. What it tests is the athlete’s lateral quickness and explosion in short areas. The athlete starts in the three-point stance, explodes out 5 yards to his right, touches the line, goes back 10 yards to his left, left hand touches the line, pivot, and he turns 5 more yards and finishes.

The combine takes place between February 27 and March 5, and will air live on the NFL Network. The NFL Draft will take place between April 26 and April 28 and air live on ESPN.

Cappa’s value has skyrocketed in the last few weeks. At the beginning of the college football season, Cappa was anticipated to be selected late in the NFL Draft, which is comprised of seven rounds. Now, some analysts suspect he could be taken as early as the second round. This would not only mean major TV time for the big fella, but also a contract potentially worth $1.3 million per year.

A Lumberjack hasn’t played a snap in the NFL since Taylor Boggs took the field for the Arizona Cardinals in 2016. Boggs was signed as a unrestricted free agent out of Humboldt State by the New York Jets, and also played short stints for the Bears and Cardinals between 2013 and 2017. No HSU player has been drafted into the NFL since Scotty Reagan, who was taken in the seventh round by the Minnesota Vikings in 1991.

Cappa is the only player from the Great Northwest Athletic Conference to be invited to the combine this year.



LAWSON CASE UPDATE: Arcata Police Still Awaiting DNA Testing Results

Andrew Goff / Wednesday, Feb. 7 @ 1:27 p.m. / Community

City of Arcata press release: 

 

Arcata Police Department continues an active investigation into the homicide of David Josiah Lawson. Since criminal investigations can take time, the City wants to remind the community that this is an active and open case.

The Police Department is working through a defined investigative strategy based on all the physical evidence and witness statements, much of which has been developed/obtained after the preliminary hearing. “Our current focus is on providing the strongest case possible. In order to do so we must have all the critical evidence processed through the Department of Justice and follow up on any leads generated from the results” stated Police Chief Tom Chapman.

As an update to the investigation the City has finalized an initial review of all the evidence with an outside investigator retired from the FBI. This review resulted in an investigative report and several suggested next steps including additional evidence testing that are underway. Although the Police Department has received a majority of the forensic evidence back from the Department of Justice, it is awaiting the completion of more complex DNA and specialty evidence testing.

A community reward program for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible is now over $40,000, between funds donated to the City and an additional pledges received by the family. Award eligibility requires that the information provided leads directly to the arrest and conviction of the person responsible. If more than one person provides identical information, the reward will be equally divided amongst those people.

At this point the investigation has interviewed 46 individuals and believes that all witnesses who could have viewed the fight and events leading up to the homicide have been interviewed. There are still many party attendees who could have knowledge of events earlier in the evening or after the night that could be of value to the investigation and encourages anyone with information, regardless of how minor it may seem, to come forward. The City Council held four community meetings in 2017 to discuss updates on the investigation and overall strategies to improve student safety. After the last meeting in October, students requested that investigation updates be separated from the student safety discussion and that student safety meetings be held on campus. For the months of November and December student safety meetings facilitated by students were held as a trial on campus. The attendance and input from students was very positive. These meetings will continue to be held through the Student Diversity Committee with support from many campus club leaders. Investigation updates will continue to be released through the press as information is available. Any individual or group with questions about the investigation should contact the City Manager’s Office at (707) 822-5953.

“Although it is critical to maintain confidentiality during a criminal investigation, I recognize that the length of time that has passed combined with the investigative privacy is taxing. I appreciate the community’s patience allowing for the thoroughness that this investigation requires and deserves. We will continue to work to bring resolution and justice for David Josiah Lawson and his family”, shares Mayor Sofia Pereira.

Anyone with information is urged to call the Arcata Police Department at (707) 822-2428 during normal business hours, or (707) 822-2424 after hours and on weekends.

PREVIOUSLY