Arcata Receives a Strongly Worded Letter From ACLU Demanding Change by November 7 Meeting

Interim Arcata Police Chief Ehle.

Interim Arcata Police Chief Ehle and an officer at a protest this August regarding the death of David Josiah Lawson. [All photos by Ryan Hutson]

Story by Ryan Hutson

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a strongly worded letter addressing “excessive police presence at City Council meetings” to the Arcata City Council and Chief of Police on Wednesday, October 31.

The letter was in response to a protest in August by the Justice For Josiah group which organized a demonstration that effectively shut down a City Council meeting inside City Hall, two days in a row. On August 16th, following the City Council members walking out of the building and canceling their rescheduled meeting from the night prior, the Arcata Police attempted to bar further entry to the building, under the direction of the City Council.

There was pushing, shoving and, in the process of enforcing the request made to effectively ‘close the building,’ the front door of City Hall was forcibly shut by the interim Arcata Police Chief. This incident in August resulted in the controversial public decorum policy.

Protesters chanting.

Protesters chanting at the August 21 meeting.

The ACLU’s letter from Alan Schlosser Senior Counsel for the ACLU of Northern California stated that disrupting one meeting, even if it is a planned disruption, doesn’t mean the city council can limit or prohibit free speech rights for the foreseeable future. Additionally, and most importantly, unless the city has specific evidence that actual unlawful activity will occur, the decision on the part of city officials to “treat meetings as a dangerous and threatening place” with the resulting presence of armed police is, according to the ACLU, an excessive burden on residents’ First Amendment rights.

The letter said that in order to “allow the public to meaningfully participate in future meetings, the Arcata City Council must reduce the excessive and intimidating police presence and remove the notice posted on the door of the City Council building, which threatens activists with a laundry list of criminal penalties.”

The letter stated that this must be done before the next meeting on November 7.

Regarding the “chilling effect on public discourse,” the letter went on to state:

Nine armed officers standing outside and inside a legislative session and next to a list of posted criminal penalties is hardly the environment for conducting the people’s business. This is particularly problematic considering the current climate in Arcata. The death of a young Black man and the failure to prosecute continues to heighten tensions in the community. Many Arcata residents have expressed their dissatisfaction with how the investigation into Josiah Lawson’s murder is being handled and these same community members are now met by armed officers when they attempt to speak out in the official public forum.

Interim Arcata Police Chief Richard Ehle stated that the police response was put together at the request of the City Manager and the Council. “[T]hey expressed an absolute need, necessity, to get business done…If you’re going to be having every meeting shut down by design, I think they made the right decision.”

Chief Ehle said that the something had to be done in order to complete city business. He stated,

People need to be heard but when you disrupt meeting after meeting, you know, by the second meeting and the third, they have to get business done. They had a couple of grant-funded measures, one for over $2 million that had to be ratified and accepted or we were in risk in peril of losing it.

Ehle defended the City’s actions by saying,

Now that is absolutely ridiculous for 25 people to come in and disrupt a meeting that’s going to impact the city to the tune of over $2 million. I mean it just doesn’t make sense. So the Council decided to have us there just to maintain peace and make sure there was proper decorum and other than that it’s not to intimidate or anything else, but if you’re intimidated because your intent upon taking over a meeting and just disrupt business as usual then, yes, you should be intimidated because we were prepared to make mass arrests. But, that’s not our preference and that’s not the councils preference.”

It should be noted that as of the morning of November 1st, there was no posted notice, policy, or warning related to decorum by the public at City Hall, inside or outside the building.

Notice previously posted in front of the Arcata City Hall.

Public Decorum Policy previously posted in front of the Arcata City Hall.

Additionally, as of the filing of this report, the Arcata City Council has not made a statement as to these most recent criticisms made by the ACLU. City Manager Karen Deimer is out of town & unavailable for comment.

A representative of the Northern California ACLU, Theodora Simon, explained that the letter was a necessary response to the City’s recent change in decorum expectations, given that the group of community members clearly targeted by the increased scrutiny are specifically participating in public dialogue to discuss concerns about justice and racism. Simon emphasized the right that all community members have, and should be able to exercise, in regard to participating openly and without any undue burden, in a public forum free from intimidation by police or by City policy that is specifically geared toward discouraging public dissent.

The next Arcata City Council meeting will take place on the 7th of November. By that time, Chief Ehle will have met with Charmaine Lawson, Mother of slain HSU student Josiah Lawson, as he expects to have forwarded the Lawson case to the Humboldt County District Attorney’s office for review.

With this recent progress in Lawson case, and charges potentially being filed by District Attorney Maggie Fleming soon as well as this recent letter from the ACLU, the next Arcata City Council meeting could very well be an interesting tightrope walk between exercising the right to protest and the practical needs of a city to get work done.




  • How many tank divisions does the ACLU command ?

  • Fuck the ACLU! What a shamful direction they have take over the last 5 years or so!

    Our society needs organizations like the ACLU and southern poverty law center to become liberal again. Currently they are authoritarian regressives.

  • Their cause bucket must be empty.

  • Those people weren’t there to take part in any dialogue, they were there to disrupt the meeting and intimidate the city council. That is not the way a civilized group conducts business and I think the city has handled the situation very well and should not let the ACLU intimidate either which is what they are trying to do.

  • I did not see anything wrong with that sign. If anything, it did not say enough. Also the ACLU mentioned that the officers were armed. I am sure that officers are supposed to be armed. That is why they are called police officers. By the way I see officers armed even when going to Starbucks to get there coffee. So what! I would be armed too if I had to face an ugly crowd during a protest. Also I see that they had to use the black card. If there was injustice what difference does the skin tone matter?

  • Did the protesters have a permit to protest on those grounds? We have protested for almost 4 years now for justice for Dante Rominose-Jones, for his murder to be solved and prosecuted. The boys there that night are either scared to say which one of them shot their 13 year old friend in the head while he was on his knees and dumped his body in a garbage can where he bled until found, or they are complicit in the murder. When proper permits are secure for legal protests the police have escorted our group through Crescent City and at the courthouse. My heart goes out to Mr. Lawson’s family. Tragic that both of these murders involved drugs or alcohol. Is the city council responsible for investigations of this sort? Can they insist in a course of action from the police or sheriff? In our case we had iron clad statements from a felon, so they didn’t count. They knew who had the gun before the incident, who was the same named suspect, his mother destroyed evidence and now walks around drunk and high mumbling to herself with almost weekly arrests for violent interactions with others. Dante was loved by many and is gone from our family, every day is one he doesn’t see. We have petitioned the fbi with no result. The family of the suspect is wealthy and hired a good attorney. The people that were at these murders need to get some balls and tell the truth before it is to late, those are the people truly responsible for there not being justice served, not city council or police in my opinion. I believe families need the truth to truly be able to heal and move from active mourning.

  • It’s pretty simple really, when your protesting do it in a peaceful Manner and the cops won’t shoot you. Start threatening people or throwing rocks and crap at the cops and there’s a good chance you might get shot by one.

  • In addition, this action prevents Sofia Pereira’s father from appearing at a city council meeting with his sign that she is a liar and disrespectful.

    • Have a nice family Thanksgiving!

      • Not an issue. No weddings. No holidays. No family events. Standing up against lies and dishonesty is more important. In the end, the only free speech Sofia Pereira allows is her own and anyone who stands up to her will be suppressed. Or worse, lied about in videos to promote her political narrative.

  • I would give a rats a$$ is they just included all the missing and murdered in humboldt county not just one …. Many differently colored folks are missing and been murdered without prosecution… Either it’s all or none!

  • Arcata has 9 armed officers? Must have got them from India. That is messed up!

  • Just a question, weren’t we supposed to get the results of the year long investigation a week or two ago along with an arrest recommendation? Someone must not have liked those results…

  • Any action taking against BLM members is racism. Just let em do whatever or pay the consequences!

  • I would say Arcata is getting what it deserves. They have been stoking this type of mob mentality, no civil discourse [dialogue], over the top drama for some time.

  • Delusional liberal anti-American leftist democrats again!!!? Now they’re destroying another beautiful part of California. The earthquakes,volcanos and tsunamis,can’t come soon enough.

  • The ACLU is one of the most serious guardians of the 1st Amendment. They have represented the left and right. That is what makes me believe in the organization and that their goal is non-partisan; to protect our freedom of speech. (It may be true that they more often are defending the left, but that is caused by the rights inclination to more callously disrespect the 1st Amendment).

    • expanding insignificance

      The 2nd Amendment was designed to protect the 1st Amendment.

    • Left: They have no right to speak! Their speak is hate speak! They must die!
      Right: We don’t agree with what you said, but we will defend to the death for your right to say it.

      • You sure you aren’t turned-around? sure sounds like it!!

        • Very, very sure. Liberals seem bent on enforcing their ideas on people by force of government. Conservatives look to American government to protect them being thus forced. Not that a liberal ever seems to notice their inevitable dark side.

          If you wish to be a liberal personally, a conservative may laugh at it but, as long as you kept it to a personal choice, they think you have a right to it just as they have a right to not be a liberal. But liberals can’t have that. If people were just allowed to make their own choices, the liberal fantasy of a shining city of humanity’s best can’t exist, being unnatural. So liberals look to use government to force people into it. Which inevitably leads to worst behavior by these darned difficult humans ever individually contemplated.

          Liberals are all at heart demagogues because humans resist their demands. Conservatives are only occasional demagogues when pushed too hard.

          • Just some issues that seem to contradict this theory:
            Pro Choice vs Pro life
            Anti-homosexuality laws/policies such as no transgender in the military, trying to repeal same sex marriage laws, adoption restrictions
            and say for instance, using marijuana.

            • Pro lifers I will give you as they look upon abortion as murder and tend to overlook the complications of life in the process. There is little wiggle room in that. Both liberals and conservatives might want government action but maybe not as party line as you think. I would also say that you define anti abortionists wrongly as all conservatives whereas in truth it is an issue where conservatives and liberals might very well find common ground. It is an issue, not a political philosophy. It’s a self fulfilling definition- ie conservatives hate women, therefore hate abortion therefore anyone who hates abortion is a conservative who hates women.

              It is how you define conservative that’s wrong. Liberals, for example, are very fond of taxing to support their agendas while a conservative would object totally to tax everyone to support theirs. A conservative may believe in the right of own guns (at least in this country- in other countries it may be the exact opposite) but they still would object to the government taxing everyone to give guns to everyone. Same sex marriage is a more difficult idea but a conservative might (and only might- it is not re rigueur to be anti gay as conservative might also be gay) object to changing the definition of marriage because they are then forced by the government to support something they personally find objectionable. It’s eliminating custom by government force that’s objectionable.

              The definition of conservative is some who objects to using government powers to enforce social change while the liberal wants the government to enforce it. It is not the “It” that is definitive but using the government to force it. I can see, for example, a conservative in a country that has always had the right to multiple wives- in fact has a whole body of law established about it- objecting to the government redefining marriage as only one spouse whereas a liberal in the same country would point to the sad effect on women and want to have the government redefine it. While here in the US, the tendency would be that conservatives would object to expanding marriage to include multiple wives just because it is government interference with what exists. They would find it wrong of the government to change them against their will.

  • whokilledourdaddy

    ^^^this is how lower class white folks are treated when they are murdered in humboldt.^^^

    that was 4 years ago… still unsolved. his sons are 6 and 5 now…

    get in line , there are many grieving longer than you have.

  • I’ll assume the regular rules of conduct are announced and/or posted too.
    1. No foul language.
    2. Respect your 3 minute limit.
    3. Non speakers to remain silent regardless if in agreement or disagreement with speaker.

    Police should be ready and able to escort disobedient individuals or groups of disobedient individuals from the building, regardless of status of individual or group. (yes, even a Board member shall be removed for suppressing an individuals 3 minutes).

    All shall receive their 3 minutes, until or unless abusive language is used. (no cussing, no threats).
    All shall remain quiet and respectful through every individual’s 3 minute speech. (no heckling, no intimidation,)

    Over riding another’s freedom of speech is not freedom of speech, it’s suppression of speech.

  • Bummer! I’ve always had deep respect for the ACLU. They have fought hard for liberties when nobody else would bother. But this Northern CA chapter is ridiculous and threatens to blow all the good reputation and support the ACLU has earned! Yes- no suspect because APD sucks. But also most murders never get solved. It’s terrible. But this bizarre pulling of it into a racist event is testing even those of us who have no skin color in our hearts. Nobody should have been held hostage in Safeway parking lot. And the City Council should not get repeatedly shut down. Although I do appreciate the irony of the lame Arcata City Council being harassed after their many years of pandering to whatever current pc issue becomes momentarily popular. That’s pretty funny!But isn’t this how the right wing always wins? The left attacks and eats it’s own.

  • “Activists” in university towns by no means represent anything close to broad public sentiment, especially in arcata. Activists are by nature, fundamentalists, and should be ignored.
    Don’t encourage their delusional megalomania.

  • Disgusting supervisors

    it’s because there’s. No big money in solving murders,there’s cash and valuable grabs at pot busts,there’s mass fines by environmental lies to be had,there’s land stealing through leins and code enforcement.all the big $$$ is what there worried about now murders are a waste of there time !!!!! No chance of finding that big stack of cash to turn in half of!!!!!

  • So many more important issues going on in the world. ACLU appears to be bullying a small city council using young naive liberals to do their dirty work? What is the intended outcome? It appears they want to incite more division and hate. Pick a real fight people, go after the banks or the billionaires who run them.

    • Trouble is that every group has its billionaire patrons. So they all listen when those patrons complain about hands reaching out for money. The groups many agree on little else but are all willing that the patrons can not be touched.

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