A San Francisco jury has ordered the City of Arcata and Arcata Police Department detective Eric Losey to pay Kyle Zoellner more than $750,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for maliciously fabricating evidence that led to Zoellner’s arrest as the primary suspect in the stabbing death of David Josiah Lawson in 2017. The jury also called for Losey to issue a public apology “to all the victims and families,” to state the nature of his reporting inaccuracy and “what he learned about the importance of accurate reporting.”
However, the jury’s decision could be overturned. The final legal determination will be made by presiding U.S. District Judge Jacqueline Scott Corley in the coming weeks.
To be clear, this week’s civil proceedings are not focused on whether or not Zoellner was involved in Lawson’s death. The civil trial was brought forth to determine whether or not Losey had acted maliciously to frame Zoellner.
Zoellner’s attorney Elizabeth Zareh contends that Losey acted with “malice” and “reckless disregard of [Zoellner’s] rights” following his arrest. “There is no doubt that APD’s investigation was bias[ed] toward Kyle Zoellner to frame him,” Zareh wrote in an email to the Outpost. “They chose to ignore significant and important exculpatory evidence and excluded [it from] their investigation. …It appears they framed [Zoellner] to cover their incompetence.”
Patrick Moriarty, an attorney representing Losey and the City of Arcata, argued that APD detectives had no unlawful purpose in arresting Zoellner, “and the decision to charge him with the murder of [Lawson] was based on evidence.” Moriarity maintains that there was ample probable cause to charge Zoellner.
“The City [of Arcata] is confident that the trial judge will set aside Mr. Zoellner’s verdict,” Moriarty wrote in an email to the Outpost. “At trial, Mr. Zoellner was required to prove that [Losey] lacked probable cause to have Zoellner charged. The trial record confirms that the plaintiff did not satisfy his burden. If the Court decides probable cause existed, it will set aside the verdict and enter judgment in favor of [Losey].”
The civil rights action initially came before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in 2018, after Zoellner filed suit against the city of Arcata, Losey and several other APD employees and people in City Hall, accusing them of unlawful arrest, malicious prosecution, defamation and other civil rights violations
In March of this year, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen dismissed the bulk of Zoellner’s suit against the City of Arcata and all its employees, with the exception of Losey.
“The Court holds that all of the defendants, except for Det. Losey, are entitled to summary judgment on the malicious prosecution claim because, even if probable cause was lacking (a reasonable jury could so find), no reasonable jury could find that they acted with malice based on the record presented,” Chen wrote in his March 1 Order on Motion for Summary Judgment.
Chen explained that the situation is different for Losey due to a “genuine dispute of material facts on malice,” because he included false information in his police report, stating that an eyewitness had identified Zoellner as the assailant in the killing of Lawson when the witness had not identified Zoellner by name.
Losey admitted that he was mistaken and told the Humboldt County District Attorney’s Office about the error before the preliminary hearing began on May 1, 2017. The DA’s Office nevertheless decided to proceed with the hearing.
Chen asserted that “a reasonable jury could infer that Det. Losey deliberately lied because of the significance of the false information” as no other witnesses from the party had claimed to see Zoeller stab Lawson “or even with a knife at all.”
“Even though Det. Losey included false evidence in his report, that does not necessarily mean probable cause was lacking to keep Mr. Zoellner in custody,” Chen continued. “[Zoellner] must show that the officer who applied for the arrest warrant ‘deliberately or recklessly made false statements or omissions that were material to the finding of probable cause’ – i.e., that ‘the magistrate would not have issued the warrant with false information redacted, or omitted information restored.’”
Chen concluded that only one claim – malicious prosecution by Losey – could proceed to trial. That’s where we’re at now.
A U.S. District Court judge is expected to make the final legal determination in the civil case in the next two weeks. If the judge determines probable cause existed at the time of Zoellner’s arrest, the court will set aside the verdict and enter a judgment in favor of Losey. If that were to happen, Zoellner would not receive any of the $750,000 ordered by the jury.
Could the impending judgment impact future investigations into the unsolved killing of Lawson? Humboldt District Attorney Maggie Fleming told the Outpost that “every review of the evidence in a particular criminal case – including those that occur during civil trials – has the potential to inform and impact ongoing investigations.”
“[However], I don’t anticipate that the outcome of any civil case will affect the commitment of law enforcement agencies – including the Arcata Police Department – to continue investigations of unresolved homicide cases within their jurisdictions,” Fleming added.
[Note: This post has been updated to include a comment from Humboldt County District Attorney Maggie Fleming.]
- Jury Verdict Form #1
- Jury Verdict Form #2
- Jury Special Request
- Eric Losey’s Memorandum Re: Probable Cause
PREVIOUS LoCO COVERAGE OF THE LAWSON CASE:
- Jail Records Reveal Name of Suspect in Fatal Arcata Stabbing
- Arcata Police Receive Anonymous Email Detailing Specifics of Arcata Homicide, Beg Author to Come Forward; Suspect Officially Named
- ‘He Was the One’: Josiah Lawson, Humboldt State Student and President of Brothers United, Remembered at Campus Prayer Service
- Zoellner Pleads Not Guilty to Arcata Stabbing Murder; Bail Set at $1 Million
- United by Tragedy, HSU Community Celebrates the Life and Mourns the Death of David Josiah Lawson
- ‘It Should Not Have Happened’: Friend of Arcata Murder Victim Believes Racism Delayed the Emergency Medical Response That Could Have Saved His Life
- ARCATA MURDER HEARING: First Witnesses Cast Doubt on Whether the Police Department’s Suspect Could Have Stabbed Victim; More Testimony Coming Tomorrow
- ARCATA MURDER HEARING: Witness Testifies That Lawson and Zoellner Were Grappling as the Victim Bled; Police Officer Describes Chaotic Crime Scene
- ARCATA MURDER HEARING: Friends Testify on ‘Girl Fight’ Between Lawson and Zoellner’s Girlfriends Prior to Fatal Stabbing
- ARCATA MURDER HEARING: More Testimony on the Knife Found at the Scene; Lawson’s Friend Testifies He Saw Zoellner Drop Something Shiny
- Judge Dismisses Case Against Kyle Zoellner, McKinleyville Man Arrested in Stabbing Death of HSU Student David Josiah Lawson
- Arcata’s Police Chief, Vice Mayor React to Zoellner Hearing Ruling
- ARCATA MURDER HEARING: Kyle Zoellner to Be Released After Judge Reinholtsen Rules Not Enough Evidence to Hold Him For Stabbing Death of Josiah Lawson
- (PHOTOS) Protesters March Through Arcata Demanding ‘Justice for Josiah’
- HSU Faculty, UPD, Brothers United Participate in Radio Town Hall on Lawson Case Tonight; Arcata Mayor Releases Statement; HSU Walk Out Planned Tuesday
- (PHOTOS/VIDEO) After Busy Week, Family and Friends of Josiah Lawson Still Seeking Justice
- Josiah Lawson’s Mother Offers $10k Reward for Information Leading to the Conviction of Son’s Killer
- Arcata Calls in Outside Investigators, Approves $21K Reward for Info Leading to Conviction of Lawson Killer
- Kyle Zoellner Appears in Court to Request Law Enforcement Return His Cell Phone, Laptops; Judge Says No
- (VIDEO) This Morning’s Lawson Murder Press Conference Offers Few Updates
- Public Investigator Working With APD in Josiah Lawson Case
- Kyle Zoellner, Once Suspected of Homicide in David Josiah Lawson Slaying, Files Claim Against City of Arcata For Defamation, Pain and Suffering, Emotional Distress
- (PHOTOS) Hundreds Turn Out for Eureka MLK Day People’s Rally and March for Justice
- DA: Grand Jury Declines to Indict Anyone in David Josiah Lawson Case
- (VIDEO) Justice for Josiah Activists Hold First Monthly Vigil Since Grand Jury Decision; Charmaine Lawson Vows to Keep Fighting
- ‘Justice For Josiah’ Advocates Demand Arcata City Council Turn Lawson Case Over to the State
- Arcata Police Release Images of Potential Josiah Lawson Stabbing Witnesses, Ask Public’s Help
- TWO YEARS
- (WATCH) ‘Who Killed Josiah?’: Documentary Takes a Look at the Lawson Case
- California Attorney General’s Office Says it Will Not Take On Josiah Lawson Case
- ‘Racism Kills!’ Supervisor Bohn Adjourns Meeting and Leaves Chambers Amid Outcry Over Derogatory Joke
- Humboldt High Schoolers Announced as First David Josiah Lawson Scholarship Recipients
- Josiah Lawson Documentary Set to Air on Los Angeles Television Later This Month
- (AUDIO) Charmaine Lawson, Arcata Police Chief Ask Witnesses to Josiah Lawson Slaying to Come Forward in Public Service Announcement.
- (VIDEO) ‘Justice for Josiah’ Activists Shut Down Arcata City Council Meeting
- Outside Review of Lawson Case Complete; Emergency Response Deemed Appropriate But More Training Recommended
- On the Third Anniversary of Josiah Lawson’s Death, Arcata Police Once Again Ask for Witnesses to Come Forward
- (VIDEO) Charmaine Lawson Interviewed for TV Documentary Series ‘Still a Mystery’; Episode on the Murder of HSU Student Josiah Lawson to Air Tonight
- Civil Grand Jury Finds ‘Failures’ and ‘Ineptitudes’ But No Direct Evidence of Racial Bias in Review of Josiah Lawson Homicide Investigation
- Submissions Sought for David Josiah Lawson Oration Festival
- Charmaine Lawson Settles Lawsuit Against City of Arcata; Terms Include $25,000 Contribution to Scholarship Fund, New City Mural and Additional, Undisclosed Terms
- Eureka City Schools Board Overturns Mural Ban, Making Way for BIPOC Student Art
- Five Years
- Charmaine Lawson Continues to Seek ‘Justice for Josiah’ Five Years After Her Son’s Death