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Indiana DNR investigating 'attempted lynching' of Black man at Lake Monroe

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Posted at 12:32 PM, Jul 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 15:41:19-04

BLOOMINGTON — The Indiana Department of Natural Resources is investigating the "attempted lynching" of a Black man that reportedly occurred over the July 4 weekend at Lake Monroe.

The DNR released a statement Monday evening saying the incident is under investigation.

"The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division responded to a call for service regarding a battery on July 4, 2020 at approximately 8 p.m. on private property adjacent to Monroe Reservoir property," the statement said. "DNR is investigating after a 911 call was transferred to Indiana Conservation Officer Central Dispatch. Additional investigation and interviews are underway.

"The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division is working diligently with the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office to ensure a lawful resolution. This matter remains under investigation and no further information will be released at this time."

RELATED COVERAGE | Victim speaks after alleged racially-motivated attack at Lake Monroe | At least two protesters struck by vehicle in Bloomington

A series of three videos of the incident involving Vauhxx Booker, 36, at Lake Monroe were posted on Facebook and shared widely on social media on Sunday and Monday.

The first appears to show a group of people surrounding and holding Booker to the ground next to a tree while Booker's friends and bystanders shout to let him go. A man from the group then approaches the person taking video of the incident and hits the camera. In the second and third videos, the group of people are seen shouting profanities and racial epithets at Booker and his friends.

In a Facebook post, Booker, a member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, said he "was almost the victim of an attempted lynching."

“I don’t want to recount this, but I was almost the victim of an attempted lynching,” Booker said in the Facebook post. “I don’t want this to have happened to me or anyone. It hurts my soul, and my pride, but there are multiple witnesses and it can’t be hidden or avoided.”

Booker added in his post that Indiana Department of Natural Resources conservation officers did not arrest any of the people in the group shown in the video.

"To be pinned down at the tree and hear him yell at his friend, 'Get a noose,' not even a rope, to get a noose with so much intent and the connotation that that carries in our society, I knew my life was in danger," Booker told WRTV's Stephanie Wade.

Alleged racially-motivated attack at Lake Monroe

Monroe County Sheriff Brad Swain said in a written statement that people have asked the sheriff's office to get involved in the Lake Monroe incident, but that DNR conservation officers have jurisdiction over the area.

"Indiana Conservation Officers responded to that call, as it is in the jurisdiction of that agency. The Monroe County Sheriff’s Office had no involvement in responding to the complaint," Swain said. "The past few hours, MCSO has received inquiries and requests to become involved. It appears other local police agencies have received similar communication.

"The expression of confidence in our ability to handle such a serious matter is appreciated, MCSO has no involvement in this event, and has no oversight responsibility over an agency empowered by the State of Indiana. Any inquiries, or concerns would best be made to IDNR or other State office."

Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant addressed the case in a statement on Tuesday afternoon.

"The Indiana Conservation Officers continue to conduct interviews and collect evidence related to this case," Oliphant said. "They have been providing us with regular updates on the progress of their investigation. We anticipate receiving the case soon. As soon as that happens, we will thoroughly review all of it and determine what charges are appropriate."

In a statement released Monday morning, Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton and City Clerk Nicole Bolden addressed the incident involving Booker and another involving a sheriff's deputy from a neighboring county who questioned and detained a Black Bloomington resident who was walking down a street in their neighborhood.

"On behalf of the City of Bloomington, we would like to express outrage and grief relating to two apparent racially motivated incidents reported in our community over the July 4 weekend," the statement from Hamilton and Bolden said.

"These separate incidents exemplify the persistence of racism and bias in our country and our own community," Hamilton and Bolden continued. "They deserve nothing less than our collective condemnation. They require that we come together as a whole, and recognize that racism damages all of us, not just our residents of color. We deserve better, and we must make it happen."

Hamilton and Bolden said there is also video of the second incident in the Bloomington neighborhood.

"Videos of the events remind us of the importance of witnesses and witnessing," they said. "Each of us must do our part to assure justice for those harmed in this weekend’s incidents, and do everything we can to forge inclusion and equity in Bloomington, and beyond."

Read the full statement from Hamilton and Bolden below:

On behalf of the City of Bloomington, we would like to express outrage and grief relating to two apparent racially motivated incidents reported in our community over the July 4 weekend. A group of individuals physically assaulted and denounced and threatened with racial epithets one Black resident of Bloomington on nearby Indiana state park land at Lake Monroe. And a sheriff’s deputy from a neighboring county questioned and detained another Black Bloomington resident walking down the Bloomington street where they live in an apparent example of racial profiling. These separate incidents exemplify the persistence of racism and bias in our country and our own community. They deserve nothing less than our collective condemnation. They require that we come together as a whole, and recognize that racism damages all of us, not just our residents of color. We deserve better, and we must make it happen. Videos of the events remind us of the importance of witnesses and witnessing. Each of us must do our part to assure justice for those harmed in this weekend’s incidents, and do everything we can to forge inclusion and equity in Bloomington, and beyond.