Likely response to new charges in year-old Lake Monroe incident: Challenge to special prosecutor’s jurisdiction

Last Friday, charges of battery and criminal trespass were filed by a special prosecutor against former Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker, in connection with an incident that took place a year ago on July 4, near Lake Monroe.

A motion to challenge the special prosecutor’s jurisdiction to file charges against Booker will probably be made in the next few weeks.  In any event, that motion would come before the scheduled first hearing date in front of a judge, currently set for Sept. 14.

That’s the word from Booker’s attorney, Katherine Liell, who joined Booker and representatives from the Monroe County branch of the NAACP, for a news conference early Monday afternoon.

The news conference, held on the southeast corner of the Monroe County courthouse lawn, was attended by at least a half dozen news outlets.

The NAACP released a statement last Friday evening condemning special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp’s decision to charge Booker.

The filing of charges against Booker came a year after two other men were charged in their role of allegedly assaulting Booker in an incident at Lake Monroe, which Booker described at the time as an “attempted lynching.”

Booker’s team released a statement on Friday that described how the special prosecutor allegedly threatened him with the charges that were filed, if he did not participate in a “restorative justice” process. Booker said he withdrew from that process when it was evident to him that his alleged attackers felt no remorse.

On Friday, Booker alluded to the restorative justice process in his concluding remarks at the news conference. “They wait till after I refuse to publicly go on a ‘forgiveness tour’ with these men to charge me.”

Booker added, “This isn’t about justice. This is about making me bend to the will of folks that feel like they should be over me.

Continue reading “Likely response to new charges in year-old Lake Monroe incident: Challenge to special prosecutor’s jurisdiction”

Monroe County likely to bring back indoor mask requirement to help stop spread of pandemic virus

By next Wednesday, all Monroe County residents, even those who are vaccinated, will likely be under a renewed mandate to wear a mask to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

According to Monroe County health administrator Caudill, a new order from county health officer Thomas Sharp will also say that schools should follow guidance from the CDC, the Indiana Department of Health, and the Indiana Department of Education.

What does guidance from those three entities mean for area K-12 schools? Caudill concluded: “At this time, that means masks should be worn in schools.”

The announcement about a new mask mandate came at Friday’s biweekly news conference on local COVID-19 pandemic response. The usual order of speakers was altered to put Monroe County healthy administrator Penny Caudill first, so she could deliver the news on masks.

Before announcing the new mask mandate for indoor public settings, Caudill described the negative trends that led to the decision: increased confirmed COVID-19 case numbers, increased positivity rates and increased hospitalizations, and less-than-hoped-for vaccination rates.

Caudill reported at the news conference that the county’s board of health would meet to deliberate on the mask mandate on Tuesday, Aug. 3 at 9:15 a.m. on a Zoom video conference.

The following day, at its regular Wednesday meeting, county commissioners could approve the mandate. The need for the board of county commissioners to act is due to a recent statutory change. The new law [SEA 05]  requires the board of county commissioners sign off on local health orders.

Continue reading “Monroe County likely to bring back indoor mask requirement to help stop spread of pandemic virus”

Victim now also charged in year-old July 4 Lake Monroe incident described as “attempted lynching”

A little more than a year ago, Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant charged two men in connection with a July 4 incident, which then-Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker described at the time as an “attempted lynching.”

B Square file photo of Vauhxx Booker at a news conference in People’s Park in Bloomington on July 10, 2020, a week after the incident at Lake Monroe.

Booker has now been charged as well, by a special prosecutor who was appointed to handle the cases of Booker’s alleged assailants, Sean M. Purdy and Jerry Edward Cox, II.

The special prosecutor is Sonia Leerkamp, a former prosecutor for Hamilton County.

The charges against Booker appeared on Indiana’s public court records system late Friday afternoon.

Booker is charged with two offenses: battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, which is a felony; and criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.

Purdy and Cox were charged a year ago by Oliphant with the felonies of battery and criminal confinement or aiding in confinement. Video footage of the incident posted on Facebook and other social media shows Purdy holding Booker down against a tree.

The Monroe County branch of the NAACP released a statement Friday evening reacting to the charges.

The NAACP statement concludes: “The Monroe County Branch of the NAACP condemns the prosecution of Vauhxx Booker, demands that the charges against him be dropped immediately, and calls on special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp to resign.”
Continue reading “Victim now also charged in year-old July 4 Lake Monroe incident described as “attempted lynching””

Bloomington climate trends could mean wetter summers, higher lake levels

Three decades from now, Indiana is forecast to see between 6 and 8 percent more rainfall than it averaged in the past, depending on the amount of greenhouse gas emissions during the lead-up to mid-century.

That’s according to a 2018 report from the Purdue Climate Change Research Center.

According to the report, in southern Indiana, the increased precipitation is predicted to come more in the winter and spring months.

But based on records of precipitation and the water levels at Lake Monroe in the past two and a half decades, southern Indiana looks like it could be seeing more rain in the first half of summer.

Earlier this week, the Indianapolis office of the National Weather Service tweeted out a link to a report on the anomaly of this summer’s first half: It has been way wetter than normal.

The abnormal amount of region-wide rainfall has caused high water on Lake Monroe. Last week Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources closed the swim beaches at the lake’s Fairfax SRA and Paynetown SRA and they’ve stayed closed.

Rainfall and lake levels are related, of course. And over the last quarter century, both seem to be showing an upward trend for this time of year. Continue reading “Bloomington climate trends could mean wetter summers, higher lake levels”

No conclusions yet on songbird deaths as Indiana adds to number of species and counties affected

In the two weeks since Indiana’s state ornithologist Allisyn Gillet held a conference on the topic, the Department of Natural Resources has not yet determined what is causing the deaths of several species of birds in this and other states.

Reports of sick and dying birds with eye swelling and crusty discharge, as well as neurological signs, have come from Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, according to the US Geological survey.

An update was made on Tuesday to the Indiana DNR’s web page that has been set up to provide information about the songbird deaths.

The updates included additional species of birds that have been documented as sick or dying in Indiana. Added to American robin, blue jay, brown-headed cowbird, common grackle, northern cardinal, are European starling, sparrow, house finch, red-headed woodpecker, and wren.

Tuesday’s update increased the number of Indiana counties reporting songbird deaths from 53 to 69. That leaves just 23 counties in Indiana that have not reported some songbird deaths as a part of the pattern. Continue reading “No conclusions yet on songbird deaths as Indiana adds to number of species and counties affected”

Analysis | A first look at remonstrance waivers: Numerical impact of new law not yet measured for Bloomington’s annexation effort

July is the last full month of summer before Monroe County Community School classes start on Aug. 4.

The darker shades of color indicate parcels with a remonstrance waiver of any date. Image links to a .pdf file with the image in vector graphic form.

The first day of school this year is also the date of a public hearing on Bloomington’s planned annexation of territory into the city.

The annexation of eight separate areas, each with its own parallel annexation process, would add more than 9,000 acres to Bloomington’s land area and about 14,000 new residents to its population.

With a public hearing on the horizon, and Bloomington city council votes expected in September, legal questions about remonstration waivers could come into sharper focus sooner than the time when the formal remonstration process would start.

Waivers are legal documents signed by a property owner giving up the right to remonstrate against annexation, in consideration of the ability to purchase utilities service from the city.

The key question is: Which waivers are valid? Indiana’s state legislature enacted a law in 2019 that voids any remonstration waiver signed before July 1, 2003.  The city of Bloomington says it is proceeding as if the older waivers are valid.

A formal remonstration process would start only after the city council voted to enact the annexation ordinance for a particular area. Continue reading “Analysis | A first look at remonstrance waivers: Numerical impact of new law not yet measured for Bloomington’s annexation effort”

Through July: Monroe County, Bloomington government meetings mostly electronic, as jabs slow, positive COVID-19 numbers stay stubborn

A key reason that Indiana governor Eric Holcomb this week issued another extension of his emergency health order is the low vaccination rate among state residents.

The order itself  says: “Critically, only 48.1 percent of eligible Hoosiers are fully vaccinated and Indiana ranks 38th of the 50 states with eligible individuals receiving at least a first dose vaccination.”

Monroe County’s numbers are slightly better, but not dramatically so.

About the county’s 55.4-percent vaccination rate, among those who are eligible, county health administrator Penny Caudill said she is concerned about the 45 percent of people who are still not vaccinated. She was speaking at Friday’s weekly press conference of local leaders on pandemic response.

Local officials will be taking advantage of the governor’s health order to continue holding government meetings electronically, on a video-conferencing platform, as they have for the last 16 months. County commissioner Lee Jones said at Friday’s press conference that through July, county meetings would be held electronically, not using a hybrid approach with in-person participation.

The Bloomington mayor’s office confirmed to The B Square on Friday afternoon that the city’s boards and commissions would meet electronically, unless noted otherwise in the meeting announcement.

Caudill said the county had fallen short of her goal, which was to have 60 percent of Monroe County’s eligible residents vaccinated by July 1. Everyone 12 years and older is eligible for at least one of the vaccines that are available. Continue reading “Through July: Monroe County, Bloomington government meetings mostly electronic, as jabs slow, positive COVID-19 numbers stay stubborn”

Monroe County, Bloomington opt out of state’s opioid settlement structure

The portion of the data charted out in the city of Bloomington and Monroe County’s 2018 lawsuit is from 2011 to 2015.  Image links to the Indiana State Department of Health datasets.

In the last couple of weeks, Monroe County and Bloomington have opted out of the state of Indiana’s process for allocation of opioid settlement money.

It’s the allocation that might come, if a global settlement is made in a class action lawsuit that has been filed against several pharmaceutical companies. More than 2,000 pending federal lawsuits, including the joint action filed in February 2018 by Monroe County and Bloomington, have been consolidated in the Northern District of Ohio.

For the county, the opt-out vote by the three-member board of commissioners came at last week’s regular June 23 meeting. County councilors voted the day before, at a work session, to opt out of the state’s process.

A week before that, Bloomington’s city council voted to opt out.

What exactly did they opt out of? It’s the process outlined in a new statute enacted during this year’s legislative session, as part of the biennial budget bill. Continue reading “Monroe County, Bloomington opt out of state’s opioid settlement structure”

Climate scientist on last weekend’s Bloomington rain: “It’s not like this was an absolute fluke…”

As of Wednesday, the National Weather Service is predicting 4 to 6 inches more rain for Bloomington, from Friday afternoon through Tuesday evening.

That follows 5 to 7 inches of rain that fell over a shorter period last weekend, which flooded a downtown Bloomington street, overtopped a county bridge with debris, and caused the floodwaters to sweep up one car, leaving its driver dead.

Based on the daily rainfall data in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Regional Climate Center database, last weekend’s two-day total rainfall of 6.1 inches, recorded by the Indiana University campus rain gauge, ranks it the third-worst storm, since daily rainfall totals have been kept, which starts in 1895.

The 6.1 inches measured on IU’s campus was the highest two-day total in the last century.

Does last weekend’s single event prove the case for climate change?

When The B Square spoke on Wednesday with Gabriel Filippelli, professor of earth sciences at IUPUI, he said, “Each given intense rainfall event does not mean that climate change has descended on us.”

Filippelli continued, “However, when you look at the regional records and you see the number of days Indiana has had extreme rainfall events, it has gone up substantially from about the end of the 1980s on.”

The amount of extreme rainfall in central Indiana has gone up by about 15 percent since 1990, Filippelli said. He continued, “The projections are, it’s going to go up another 15 percent by 2050.”

That means extreme rainfall will continue to be likely in this area, he said. He added, “Whether climate change will make them worse or not, it’s hard to say, ”

In the context of a 15-percent increase in extreme rainfall, Filippelli assessed last weekend’s storm like this: “You know, 15 percent isn’t a lot, but it’s not like this was an absolute fluke that we’ll never see again.” Continue reading “Climate scientist on last weekend’s Bloomington rain: “It’s not like this was an absolute fluke…””

IU to “stay the course” on vaccine requirement for fall, points to $10M savings compared to mitigation testing

Indiana University “certainly made the papers this week.”

That was a remark from IU’s media relations director Chuck Carney, as he turned over the mic to the university’s vice president for strategic partnerships, Kirk White, during Friday’s weekly press conference with local leaders on pandemic response.

But White led off his turn with some news that might not have made the papers—the latest dose numbers at the Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall COVID-19 vaccination clinic.

Since late March, 35,600 doses have been administered, White said. Plenty of appointment slots are available next week, which can be scheduled at the state’s online registration site, White said.

Some of the news that put IU in the papers was the letter that several state legislators sent to Indiana governor Eric Holcomb. The state lawmakers object to the university’s decision, announced last Friday, to require vaccinations for students, faculty and university staff with the start of the fall 2021 semester.

Also putting IU in the news this past week was an opinion  issued on Wednesday by Indiana’s attorney general Todd Rokita. The opinion says IU’s approach to its policy requiring a COVID-19 vaccination violates a new law passed by the state legislature this year. Continue reading “IU to “stay the course” on vaccine requirement for fall, points to $10M savings compared to mitigation testing”