Restorative justice resolves alleged assault at Indiana lake

A judge says restorative justice was successfully used for one of the first times in Indiana to remediate a confrontation in which a Black man said a group of white men assaulted him and threatened to “get a noose” while at a southern Indiana lake more than a year ago.

The alleged assault gained national attention in July 2020 when Vauhxx Booker, a local civil rights activist and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, said he called 911 after five men assaulted him and pinned him to a tree at Lake Monroe, just south of Bloomington. He said the men accused him of trespassing on private property and, after he tried to apologize, the situation got physical.

Booker himself faced criminal charges more than a year after the confrontation that earlier led to charges against two of the alleged attackers. The charges against Booker, filed by a special prosecutor in Monroe Circuit Court, were the same recommended by Indiana Department of Natural Resources investigators following the incident.

All charges against all parties in the case were dropped after a restorative justice process concluded earlier this month, according to court records. In the restorative justice model, the offender and victim in a case come together in a conference to discuss what happened, and the offender has the opportunity to apologize.

Judge Lance Hamner, who presided over the case, said it was the first time he’s seen a criminal case resolved through restorative justice. The Center for Community Justice, based in Elkhart, Indiana, facilitated the mediating discussion about the incident between Booker and those he accused of attacking him.

“It’s kind of a grown-up way of just handling a case and taking it out of the court system,” Hamner told WISH TV. “They explained it to me as a new and innovative way to resolve cases that achieve all the goals of the criminal justice system, but it doesn’t have to go through the full judicial process.”

Booker initially declined to enter into the restorative justice process. Court records indicate he decided to re-enter the process in December.

“When people start to get mad, their reasoning starts to go down. That’s the source of a lot of conflict,” Hamner said. “After it’s all had a chance to cool down and people had a chance to think about it, reasoning starts to go back up, and that’s when your restorative justice can kick in because then people can start thinking with their minds instead of with their emotions.”

Hamner, who said he was “really impressed” by the remediation process, added that it also spares the state justice system on expenses and resources. The judge, who is currently running for Johnson County prosecutor, said “that’s something I want to look into even more” should he get elected.

Neither Booker nor his legal counsel immediately replied to requests for comment.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which responded to the reported assault, recommended charges against everyone involved.

Monroe County prosecutors originally charged two white men. Sean Purdy faced charges of felony criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and intimidation. Jerry Cox II was charged with felony criminal confinement and battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, as well as two misdemeanors.

Last August, Booker was additionally charged with misdemeanor trespass and felony battery for his involvement.

Booker said the men threatened to break his arms and said, “get a noose,” while telling his friends to leave the area. He said one of the men wore a hat decorated with a Confederate flag and that the men made statements about “white power.”

Witnesses who were with Booker that day said they heard racial slurs being shouted and that someone said “get a noose” and “leave the boy here, we will take care of him.” Cellphone video posted on Facebook that showed part of the altercation was viewed millions of times online.

Cox and Purdy claimed Booker was trespassing and denied the allegations regarding a noose. Both maintained that Booker threatened them first, and their lawyers said after the altercation that the two men were victims of a “smear campaign.”

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