BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (WISH) — The Indiana Department of Natural Resources said Monday it’s continuing to investigate two days after a battery report on Monroe Lake, and a rally and march Monday outside the Monroe County Courthouse and through Bloomington included the victim of the reported battery and the mayor.
Video of the march posted on social media show a car hitting protesters near the Courthouse square. Two different cellphone videos show a car moving with at least one person on the hood of the vehicle. Another person appears to be dragged by the car in one video. The other video shows emergency responders at the scene.
Bloomington Police Department declined to comment about the Monday night incident shown on social media. A Monroe County dispatcher told News 8 to call back on Tuesday.
The march of hundreds of people Monday night came after a viral Facebook post from Vauhxx Booker, a member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission. Booker says he was attending a lunar eclipse viewing party Saturday night at Monroe Lake when he was accosted.
News 8’s Sierra Hignite spoke with Booker’s attorney, who expects criminal charges to be filed.
“I see felonies in those videos,” said Katherine Liell, Booker’s attorney. “Of all people to pick on and to attack, he will not stand by silently and neither will the members of our community. Nor will I.”
Booker says a dispute over crossing private property occurred, then he learned that the event organizer was not the property owner. He says that people in the group were yelling “white power” at his group of friends.
He says an attempt to smooth things over led to people following him down a trail, then jumping him from behind.
He says five people overwhelmed him and that he was pinned against a tree, with someone saying “get a noose,” according to Booker. Booker says someone also threatened to break his arm.
“I was absolutely certain that they were trying to kill me but I refuse to be another hashtag,” Booker said.
Video of a physical altercation and argument was included in Booker’s post and has garnered national attention being viewed more than 3.5 million times by Monday night. Booker says that as the altercation continued more people started to gather recording video’s on their phones and yelling for the men to let him go.
“There was a very disheartening moment when where one of the women in the crowd yells, ‘You’re going to kill him,” Booker said.
“These men were confident that they could grab my body and do with me what they will and that there would be no repercussions and so far they appear to be right,” Booker said.
No one was arrested at the time, Booker said.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources on Sunday night would only confirm conservation officers responded to a “call for service” and the incident was under investigation. Late Monday afternoon, the department said in a news release that the “call for service” involved a battery about 8 p.m. Saturday “on private property adjacent to Monroe Reservoir property.”
“DNR is investigating after a 911 call was transferred to Indiana Conservation Officer Central Dispatch. Additional investigation and interviews are underway,” the Monday news release said. “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.”
News 8 has filed a request for public record with DNR, requesting all written police reports and any other documentation regarding the incident.
The Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office provided a statement on Tuesday afternoon: “The Indiana Conservation Officers continue to conduct interviews and collect evidence related to this case. 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.”
The FBI has joined the investigation into the reported battery of Booker, he and his lawyer said Tuesday afternoon. The FBI confirmed its investigation on Tuesday night. Earlier in the day, the FBI had said it was only monitoring the situation.
A group of people — including Booker and Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton — gathered late Monday afternoon for a rally outside the Monroe County Courthouse. News 8’s Demie Johnson reported from the rally on Facebook Live.
A second protest happened Tuesday night. Johnson also reported from that rally on a Facebook Live post.
WISH-TV reached out to Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, and Woody Myers, the Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate, for comment. A spokesperson for Holcomb declined to comment, referring to a DNR news release sent late Monday afternoon. Myers’ campaign had not responded by Monday afternoon.
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.Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton and Clerk Nicole Bolden
“Over the weekend, a complaint was made regarding a racial incident near Monroe Lake, on Indiana Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) property.
“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.
“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 Sheriff Brad Swain
“Many of you have contacted our office asking that I take action on the viral incident that occurred over the holiday weekend in Monroe County and I wanted you to know what actions I have taken thus far.
“First, I condemn these actions. The videos are repulsive to the say the least and the fear that Mr. Booker must have felt is chilling. This incident is yet another example that racism and white supremacy is right here in our own backyard. This incident should have everyone shaken to the core of their being. No one should ever experience what Mr. Booker had to endure. In my opinion, this incident needs to be investigated as a hate crime.
“I have made contact with the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office to share the videos that were sent to me. I have also made contact with DNR and the State Police.
“From what I know, the investigation is still ongoing and not much information is being shared because of the pending investigation. Please know this situation is receiving my highest attention and I will be monitoring it very closely. There are still many questions that need to be answered. I have spoken to Mr. Booker by phone today and we had a nice chat despite the circumstances. He told me this, “although physically I’m ok, spiritually…I’m hungry for justice.” I, too, want that for him.”Indiana state Sen. J.D. Ford, a Democrat from Indianapolis, on Twitter
“Early this morning I was shocked and horrified to learned of a senseless assault against Mr. Vauhxx Booker near Lake Monroe over the weekend. Let there be no mistake – Mr. Booker was attacked for no other reason than the color of his skin. This was a hate crime.
“This attack shocks our collective conscience and cries out for justice. It is an example of the racism that is ever prevalent in our nation, in our own communities, and a further example of the flaws and failures in our system to appropriately address it. It illustrates the need for meaningful, comprehensive hate crimes legislation; for policy reforms that reshape our criminal justice processes and implement the IBLC reforms; and for enhanced training protocols that root out racism in our law enforcement and enable good officers to fairly enact the law.
“There can be no place for the hateful, belligerent conduct witnessed this weekend. I am urging our law enforcement community, including our local Prosecutor, to take swift action in investigating this incident and bringing charges against all the perpetrators.
“It is time our society change. We must all join in unequivocally denouncing racism and white supremacy where we see it. We must show our commitment to the values of equality by implement a system that enables all our citizens to enjoy it. It is not enough to demand justice in this incident, but to demand it in all incidents. An offense like this against one of us, is an offense against all of us.”Adam Dickey, chair, Indiana’s North District Democratic Party
“I am horrified to hear about this racist attack over the holiday weekend. This is not just an issue of violence; this is clearly a hate crime and must be treated as such.
“I call on Governor Holcomb to immediately suspend the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officers involved pending further investigation. After viewing the videos of three individuals pinning a black man to a tree so that he couldn’t breath, among a stream of racial slurs, the DNR officers had clear evidence that a crime had been committed and immediate corrective action should have been taken.
“There is no law against ignorance and no law against the probable angry verbal exchange that preceded this violence, but we do have laws that protect people from physical attacks and intimidation. The men in question should have been removed from the park and taken into custody, pending charges. It is possible that the DNR officers were also intimidated by the group and afraid to take action. However, they could have called for backup, and allowing this crime to take place without immediate consequences both condones and emboldens this kind of violence.
“A crime of violence is one thing. Because this violence was accompanied by continuous racial slurs and angry comments about a black person out with white friends, it should be elevated to a hate crime. If it had been a white person out with other white friends, this would not have happened. Clearly, this man was attacked because he was black. The DNR’s inaction must be investigated. This tragedy should serve as a reminder to all of us that racism is unfortunately alive and well, and we need clear reform of law enforcement so that we can hold perpetrators accountable.”Indiana state Sen. Mark Stoops, a Democrat from Bloomington
“For Black Hoosiers, the existential threat posed by racism creeps into every aspect of life. It is ceaseless and knows no boundaries. It found its way onto the shores of Lake Monroe and undoubtedly similar hateful events occur across our state every day. Sometimes they are acute and visible as they were on Lake Monroe, and sometimes they occur silently as a result of bias — implicit or otherwise.
“We must do better. The events in Monroe County and those that go unwitnessed except by those who bear them are an aching reminder that until injustice is addressed, there is no justice. It’s a reminder to redouble our efforts to make progress by electing leaders willing to acknowledge and face systemic racism head on. It’s a reminder that change begins with us and we are charged with the action needed to move Indiana forward.”John Zody, Indiana Democratic Party chairman
“The apparent racially-motivated incidents that occurred this weekend in Bloomington, Indiana, and Lake Monroe further remind us of the epidemic of bigotry that plagues our entire nation. We Hoosiers must continue coming together to condemn hate and demand that every one of us is treated with dignity and respect, regardless of our background. It’s clear, however, we still have a long way to go to achieve that. I stand with these individuals who were targeted over the weekend, and all the people who have been the target of bigotry. I also urge local authorities to fully investigate these incidents to ensure the people who committed these acts are brought to justice. We will not let hate win.”U.S. Rep. André Carson, a Democrat from Indianapolis, on Twitter
“Indiana University stands for ideals that are incompatible with the scourge of racism. Ever as we have been collectively and actively discussing the persistence of racism, a local incident reminds all of us in the IU Bloomington community that awareness is not enough. We must work to fight against these ideas until all in our community feel safe.”James C. Wimbush, vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs and dean of Indiana University, on Twitter
“The video of the brutal beating and attempted lynching of Vauhxx Booker that was shared yesterday is further evidence of the continued harm to Black and Brown Americans as a result of over 400 years of racism in America. Black and Brown Hoosiers should not have to fear for their lives, only to have them ripped away through the use of vigilante force and violence. Our communities know all too well that this could’ve happened to any of us and that is a deep hurt for the Black community and one that we continue to bear. The time has come for real change
“Today, I am grateful for the strength and resilience of Vauhxx Booker. I am grateful that he is able to share the experience of this lived trauma, even though he should never have to. No one should ever be subjected to this particular kind of vigilante terrorism that is rooted in hate and fear, rooted in a power structure that no caring or decent person would ever support. Some might think that Vauhxx is lucky, and I just disagree. The fact is that he never should’ve had to go through this: he nor any Black Americans shouldn’t have to be ‘lucky’ to not get lynched in America today.
“Today, I am thankful that he is alive. I’ve been speaking with Vauhxx about what happened and how I can help, how our community can help. For those that don’t know, Vauhxx is someone who actively does the work of creating structural change in our communities. He is someone who is willing to take on deeply entrenched power structures. He is motivated by a bold vision of an equitable America and he takes action to create an America that lives up to the ideals of justice and freedom for all. While he and I are separated by an hour drive and we live in two different cities, I’m proud to be connected to him through a shared vision and in doing this essential work of changemaking in our communities.
“What happened to Vauhxx is inhumane and unjust and I want everyone to know that I am joining him in a fight for justice using the legal system: this is what he has asked all of us to do. I ask you to join in that fight as well. As more information becomes available in the days and weeks ahead, we all will be called to help Vauhxx in the way that he asks us to and through his leadership. We must continue to walk down the path of justice and freedom together because as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘No one is free until we are all free.’
“I cannot comprehend the kind of trauma and grief that Vauhxx is living with and feeling at this very moment. The haunting reality is that he has lived through this and he knows that thousands of other Black Americans before him have not. I know that this trauma will be carried with him for the rest of his life and he is changed forever. I will continue to lift up Vauhxx, his family, and his friends in prayer in the months and years to come. I hope that he will be able to find healing in peace in his life.
“The time has come for real work and progress on these issues. We have the ability to make change that ends vigilante terrorism and violence but we must have bold leaders who are committed to doing the work, bold leaders who will take on the dysfunctional systems and create new American systems that respect the humanity and liberty of all Hoosiers and Americans.
“This attempted lynching and brutal beating are rooted in a system of hate that must be undone. It is forefront on my mind that this will test the bounds and effectiveness of the recently approved Indiana hate crimes legislation. We all should be attentive to any limitations in that law and we must work to remedy them immediately in 2021. As your State Senator, I will support legislation for a comprehensive hate crimes bill that would ensure that this kind of hate does not continue as an injustice. We have a lot of work to do in Indiana. As State Senator, I won’t just fight for change, I will lead it.”Belinda Drake, of Indianapolis, Democratic Party candidate for Indiana State Senate in District 32