In her claim against the Arcata Police Department, attorney Shelley Mack lists a number of valid complaints about how the APD is handling — or mishandling — the David Josiah Lawson murder investigation. 

Curiously, she doesn’t mention a mistake so egregious it seriously weakened the prosecution’s case against suspect Kyle Zoellner. 

The district attorney charged Zoellner believing, based on a written APD report, there was an eyewitness who named him as the person who stabbed the 19-year-old Lawson.

During Zoellner’s preliminary hearing, when Deputy District Attorney Roger Rees called that witness to the stand, the witness said “Zoellner? I don’t know Zoellner.”

So Rees called as a witness then-APD Detective Eric Losey, who wrote the report quoting the eyewitness. 

“Regrettably,” Losey said, “that was an error.”

Another mistake wasn’t legally costly, just embarrassing: APD detectives said a paring knife was missing from Zoellner’s knife bag. They had to be informed, by the defense, to look in a compartment they hadn’t searched. Paring knife found.

As to a knife found under a car near the murder scene, Mack states correctly that Losey, under questioning at the preliminary hearing, could not recall whether he was wearing gloves when he picked up the knife. What Mack leaves out is that Losey was then shown photos of him holding the knife, and he had gloves on.

Mack notes that at the party where Lawson was stabbed, Arcata police sent numerous potential witnesses home without getting information about how to contact them later. Investigators reportedly have interviewed only about 30 percent of potential witnesses. Up to 200 people attended the party.

Mack says one woman has video footage from the party, but police have rebuffed her efforts to contact them.

APD did not seize Zoellner’s car after the arrest, instead allowing a friend of Zoellner’s girlfriend to drive it away from the scene. 

It’s claimed Zoellner, who then worked for a catering company, had a bag of chef’s knives in his car. Were one or more knives missing when the police finally searched the bag?

It’s in dispute whether APD officers refused to administer CPR to the dying Lawson, as the complaint claims. One APD officer testified during the preliminary hearing that she attempted to give CPR but was hampered by a large crowd of onlookers who were breathing down her neck and screaming she was a “fucking bitch” who didn’t know what she was doing.

On the night of the killing, the complaint states, APD took no physical evidence from Zoellner’s girlfriend, Lila Ortega, or her three female friends, all of whom were at the party.  

Mack states APD investigators turned down offers of assistance from a number of law-enforcement agencies. Those included the District Attorney’s office, Eureka Police Department, Humboldt County Sheriff’s Department and Humboldt State University Police Department. Mack says APD also told Charmaine Lawson they were working with the San Jose Police Department, which allegedly turned out to be false.

Losey resigned from APD a few months after the case against Zoellner was dismissed. Chief Tom Chapman quit suddenly this month, a day after the resignation of a former FBI agent who had been helping with the investigation.