The Monroe County Prosecutor's Office is investigating an assault on Vauhxx Booker, a Monroe County human rights commissioner. Booker, who is Black, and others online are calling the partially videotaped encounter an attempted lynching.
The encounter happened on the evening of the Fourth of July near Lake Monroe, and Booker posted about it on Facebook on Sunday. In the post, he said he was jumped from behind by men with confederate flags from a group that had been blocking people getting to a campsite for a lunar eclipse event that Booker was attending, claiming to own the land, and yelling “white power.”
Booker said the group then pinned him to a tree and attacked him, hitting his head, ripping his hair out and at one point, jumping on his neck. Booker and witnesses said one of the people said “get a noose” and other racist slurs.
The videos posted with the story on Facebook show multiple people pinning Booker against a tree while he’s on all fours and men yelling racist slurs while flipping off people videotaping them. Booker was the only Black person in his group of friends.
“When they saw a Black man is when they went into a rage of racist slurs,” Booker’s lawyer Katharine Liell said.
Witness Steven Cox said Booker’s neck was being held against the tree by the group of people, and they were holding him down by his hair. Cox and several of the others who went looking for Booker after he did not return to the campsite were threatened for filming the scene. The people assaulting Booker took Cox’s phone away.
“They were telling us all to leave and they were going to keep him,” Cox said.
Booker called 911 after the people who arrived at the scene got the attackers off of him. Witnesses say it took one to two hours for Department of Natural Resources officers to respond.
Liell said although witnesses did experience trauma and their timelines may not be reliable, video evidence shows the sun had gone down by the time the DNR officers arrived. The encounter occurred around 7 to 7:30 p.m. and sunset was 9:16 p.m Saturday.
The officers did not make any arrests upon arrival, which Liell said is standard if the officers did not witness the attack. When this happens, the prosecutor decides whether arrest warrants should be issued after hearing the officers’ reports. However, Liell said officers did not attempt to collect the video evidence that witnesses had, and she said she believes the prosecutor's office was misled to believe the encounter was less serious than it was.
“Obviously the police weren’t taking it very seriously,” Liell said.
She said the prosecutor’s office called in the two DNR officers who responded to the incident to question them this morning. Liell said she is also attempting to work with the prosecutor’s office to provide evidence, videos and names of witnesses. She said from her experience in criminal law, arrest warrants will be issued soon.
Booker said in an interview Sunday night that he and his friends, who had gathered at a beachfront campsite on public property to watch the lunar eclipse Saturday night, did not end up staying the night because they felt unsafe. Cox said DNR officers gave people boat rides back across the lake so they did not have to walk past the other group of people again.
On Sunday afternoon, Booker went to the emergency room when he continued to experience symptoms of a concussion. He said he was diagnosed with a minor concussion, abrasions, bruises and some ripped out hair patches. The ER doctor contacted the DNR with his diagnosis.
“It’s disturbing, it comes in waves,” Booker said about his mental processing of the incident. “There was a moment when someone said, ‘don’t kill him.’”
He said he has thought about the many other Black people who must have listened to people discuss their murders right in front of them and not lived to tell the story.
“I didn’t want to be another hashtag,” Booker said.
He said he has no doubt that if he had attacked someone the way he was attacked, he would have been arrested.
The DNR has jurisdiction over Lake Monroe and recently received public criticism after another racially charged event. DNR officers arrested a man who allegedly was interfering with an investigation into a complaint made by boaters who were flying a Trump flag. They reported a boat of IU football players after the players yelled profanities at them. The players, who were black, claimed they were racially profiled.
Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton issued a joint statement with city clerk Nicole Bolden denouncing the assault and another alleged racial profiling by a sheriff deputy who arrested a Black resident walking on his/her street during the Fourth of July weekend.
“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 said. “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.”
Booker’s case is still under investigation, and no documents are publicly available at this time.