Monroe County prosecutor to weigh possible charges in case described as “attempted lynching” by target of assault

According to deputy prosecutor Jeff Kehr, the Monroe County prosecutor’s office will be reviewing reports from the Indiana Conservation Officers (ICO) about an “attempted lynching” at Lake Monroe on July 4. The ICO is law enforcement division of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

cropped Vauhxx Screen Shot 2020-07-06 at 10.06.41 AM
Facebook videos of an incident described by the man being held down in the left frame as an “attempted lynching.” Image links to Facebook post.

The ICO will be providing the prosecutor’s office with their investigative reports, witness statements, and digital evidence, according to Kehr. “We will thoroughly review all of the information presented to us and decide what charges are appropriate,” Kehr’s statement said.

On Sunday, Vauhxx Booker, who is an activist and a member of Monroe County’s human rights commission, posted to Facebook a video showing parts of the incident, including footage of him being held down against a tree trunk.

Booker described part of the episode this way: “I tussled with the two and another one joined in, then two more. The five were able to easily overwhelm me and got me to the ground and dragged me pinning my body against a tree as they began pounding on my head and ripped off some of my hair, with several of them still on top of my body holding me down.”

Booker stated in his Facebook post that one of his assailants told his comrades several times to “get a noose.”

Several people, among them elected officials, wrote in Facebook comments that they will be contacting Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant about the incident.

Bloomington’s mayor, John Hamilton, and city clerk, Nicole Bolden issued a joint statement Monday morning about the Lake Monroe incident and a separate one in Bloomington that took place the day before. About the two incidents, their statement said, “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.”

According to Booker, when 911 was dialed, the call was transferred to DNR, and when officers arrived, they first approached those who’d held Booker down and beat him, before the officers checked to see if he was alright. Booker said in his Facebook post, “…I’m okay. I was diagnosed with a minor concussion, some abrasions, bruising, and some ripped out hair patches.”

If the prosecutor’s office decides to charge any of Booker’s assailants, their racist epithets appear to create the possibility that their offense could be analyzed as a bias crime under Indiana Code.  That’s defined in part as “an offense in which the person who commits the offense knowingly or intentionally…selected the person who was injured…by the offense because of the color, creed, disability, national origin, race, religion, or sexual orientation of the injured person.”

Without commenting on the incident at Lake Monroe, deputy prosecutor Kehr said in response to a query from The Square Beacon that Indiana Code does not provide for an enhanced charge to be made, based on the status of an offense as a bias crime. It does, however, allow for the prosecutor “argue that it is an aggravating circumstance which the judge can use to give a greater sentence within the penalties already permitted by law.” Aggravating circumstances can also be used to argue for the “stacking” of sentences.

Kehr said that the prosecutor’s office does not have statistics on bias crimes. They’re difficult to track, he said, because they’re not a separate offense, but rather a aggravator used in sentencing.

A crime doesn’t have to be investigated as a bias crime from the beginning, in order for it to qualify as one, according to Kehr.

Kehr said he expects that the information presented to the prosecutor’s office will contain Booker’s statement to the law enforcement. That will be reviewed, along with any other statements that Booker has made related to this case, Kehr said.

The episode involving Booker as the target of a racist attack at Lake Monroe came the day after a Black man, Darwin “Dee” Davis Jr., posted a video to Twitter of himself being stopped walking in his own Bloomington neighborhood for questioning by an off-duty sheriff’s detective. The detective works for Lawrence County, but lives in the same neighborhood.

A neighbor woman had apparently reported directly to the detective that someone had been looking in cars along the street. Davis had to produce ID and wait until Monroe County sheriff’s deputy arrived, according to Davis’s Twitter feed.

When Davis told the detective, who was wearing a Bloomington South T-shirt, that he played basketball for South and had won state championships for the school, the detective did not appear to recognize him. One headline from a 2011 H-T article read “Davis no-brainer as player of the year“.

Booker who, would a day later describe being beaten in the woods next to Lake Monroe, Tweeted at Davis, “If you’d like to make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission please reach out to me.”

By Monday morning, the Facebook video of Booker being held down had been viewed over 1 million times. The video of Davis also made the rounds on Facebook.

About Davis’s experience, Booker commented on Facebook: “The question is what are you privileged white folks going to do about it besides intellectual introspection?”