Lawsuits over developer’s Lake Monroe excavations to end; settlement gets compliance for Monroe County, $50K for developer

On Wednesday afternoon, at a joint session of Monroe County’s board of commissioners and the county plan commission, both bodies voted separately to agree to a settlement of a lawsuit against William and Nicole Huff and the Huffs’ counterclaim against the county.

The county’s lawsuit was filed in May of 2019.

The Huffs will get a payment of $50,000 to settle their defamation and due process claims against the county. That cost will be split evenly by the county and the county’s insurance provider, OneBeacon Insurance Group.

The county will get quick access to the site on Lake Monroe, where the Huffs have been excavating and removing trees for a couple of years, to check the current status of erosion control on the property related to their development activity. The assessment will be done by an engineer of the Huffs’ choosing and the county’s municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) coordinator.

If problems are found related to erosion, a remedy will be implemented by the Huffs. If no problems are found, that’s the end of the story, at least as it relates to events of the past. For future permitting related to development at the site, the Huffs are supposed to be treated like any other petitioner, according to county attorney David Schilling.

According to the settlement agreement, once any erosion problems are identified, and remedied if they’re found, the county is required to issue a press release that states: “The County has reached an agreement with the Huffs to resolve the lawsuit. The County has determined that the site is in compliance with all County erosion control requirements and does not pose a threat to the Monroe County water supply.”

The vote on the three-member board of commissioners to accept the settlement was 3–0. On the plan commission the tally was 7–1, with dissent from Trohn Enright-Randolph, who serves as county surveyor, which is a countywide elected position. Continue reading “Lawsuits over developer’s Lake Monroe excavations to end; settlement gets compliance for Monroe County, $50K for developer”

No word from prosecutor: July 4 Lake Monroe incident involving Bloomington activist gets tried in court of public opinion

As of early Tuesday morning, there was still no word from the Monroe County prosecutor’s office on possible charges arising from an incident that took place at Lake Monroe on July 4.

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In a Facebook post the following day, local activist and Monroe County human rights commissioner, Vauhxx Booker, described himself as “almost the victim of an attempted lynching.”

Since then, demonstrations with a few hundred people have been held on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington and Booker has given a few press conferences. At one of the press events he and his legal counsel called for a federal grand jury to be convened.

On Monday, David Hennessy, an attorney who represents Sean Purdy and Caroline McCord, two of the people who were involved in the incident, and whom Booker is accusing, gave a press conference.

Hennessy argued a case for his clients, saying that Booker was “the instigator and the agitator” in the incident. Continue reading “No word from prosecutor: July 4 Lake Monroe incident involving Bloomington activist gets tried in court of public opinion”

Monroe County prosecutor on assault of Vauhxx Booker: DNR investigation of July 4 case is not yet complete

On Saturday, July 4, at Lake Monroe, Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker was assaulted by a group of white men in a case Booker has described as an “attempted lynching.”

In a press release issued a little before 5 p.m. on Thursday, the Monroe County prosecutor’s office gave a status update: No charges have been filed because the investigation is not yet complete.

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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 press release, which came from prosector Erika Oliphant, indicates that no charges have yet been filed, because the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Law Enforcement Division (IDNR Law Enforcement), has not completed its investigation and turned over all its evidence to the prosecutor.

The statement says, “At this time, the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office cannot speculate as to charges. IDNR Law Enforcement will forward their investigative report to the Prosecutor’s Office immediately upon completion, at which time it will be expeditiously reviewed.”

About the investigation, the press release says, “Since the initial response, IDNR Law Enforcement has been working diligently to complete the investigation.” Continue reading “Monroe County prosecutor on assault of Vauhxx Booker: DNR investigation of July 4 case is not yet complete”

Demonstrators call on Bloomington, Monroe County electeds for action, not words on racism

On Monday evening at the southeast corner of the Monroe County courthouse in downtown Bloomington, Jennifer Crossley introduced herself to a gathering of around 400 people. She used her community leadership credentials: She’s the chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party.

But she told the group she wasn’t going to talk about that role. “Before I am a leader in this community, I am Black,” she told them.

The demonstration was pulled together on short notice. What brought out demonstrators at 5:30 p.m. on Monday were some events that unfolded over the weekend that showed racism is still deeply rooted in the Bloomington community.

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 an incident at Lake Monroe on July 4. The video shows him being held down against a tree trunk by a white man who would not let him go. According to Booker, the man told his comrades several times to “get a noose.”

Signs and chants, “Erika, do your job!” identified one elected official from whom the demonstrators wanted action. They want Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant to prosecute those who assaulted Booker. [Updated at 1:45 p.m. on July 7. The latest word from the prosecutor’s office as of 1:37 p.m. is: “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.”] Continue reading “Demonstrators call on Bloomington, Monroe County electeds for action, not words on racism”

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).

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

Lawsuit now filed by Monroe County, other plaintiffs over proposed logging, burning in Hoosier National Forest

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The project area for the Houston South project is shown in dark red, with Lake Monroe watershed in heavy blue. The image is from the meeting minutes for the Feb. 12, 2019 meeting of Monroe County’s council. Image links to meeting minutes.

A lawsuit filed by Monroe County officials in federal district court on Wednesday claims that the US Forest Service violated the National Environmental Protection Act and the National Forest Management Act in its adoption of a plan to log, burn and apply herbicide to sections of the Hoosier National Forest just southeast of Monroe County.

The project activities proposed by the forest service include clear cutting about 400 acres, and some kind of tree removal from another roughly 3,000 acres. Also a part of the mix are herbicide spot treatments on about 2,000 acres. About three miles of new roads are supposed to be built along with eight miles worth of temporary roads.

As described by the forest service, the purpose of the Houston South Vegetation Management and Restoration Project is “to promote tree growth, reduce insect and disease levels and move the landscape toward desired conditions.”

The project area overlaps with part of the Lake Monroe watershed. That’s a substantial part of the objections to the project, because the lake provides drinking water to the city of Bloomington and much of the rest of Monroe County.

Continue reading “Lawsuit now filed by Monroe County, other plaintiffs over proposed logging, burning in Hoosier National Forest”

At record high for this time of year, Lake Monroe starting to level off

Wednesday morning, a pontoon pilot approached the Lake Monroe causeway—it’s where SR 446 crosses the reservoir, leaving a gap at the south end for boaters to navigate under the road.

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View looking northwest under the SR 446 causeway across Lake Monroe on June 26, 2019 (Dave Askins/Beacon)

But the captain reversed his engine, brought his craft about, then idled, floating maybe 30 yards west of the underpass. He and his crewmate made quick work of the task that allowed them to navigate through the opening: They unclipped the guy wires and lowered the frame that held the canopy aloft.

They might have had enough clearance to scrape under the bridge, without lowering the sun shade. But the record-high levels of the lake—for this time of year—meant that it would have been close.

The normal level of the lake is 538 feet above sea level. But through Wednesday, Lake Monroe registered about 552.6 feet on the USGS gauge. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which manages the lake, typically reports water levels using the number of feet above the normal pool. That’s currently 14.6 feet. Continue reading “At record high for this time of year, Lake Monroe starting to level off”