UPDATE: Mayor, police chief issue statements on alleged assault of Cajun Navy volunteer

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Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 8:46 AM CDT
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Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - A Cajun Navy volunteer says she was attacked while on the job in Lake Charles this week.

We spoke to the victim who says she never imagined a day volunteering could turn so brutal in just the blink of an eye.

Cajun Navy volunteer Becky Johnson spent Monday delivering some supplies when she decided to park her vehicle in an Albertson’s parking lot. That’s when Johnson says she was jerked from her vehicle by two men who verbally and physically assaulted her.

“That’s the last thing I would have ever expected,” said Johnson. “Ever. I’m still shocked about that.”

Johnson spoke to us with a black eye, nearly one week after the incident. You may remember her from working to help displaced hurricane victims by housing them in her own home. Now, she says it feels like she’s being ousted from the very community she’s been so desperately trying to serve.

Johnson described the incident saying, “A lot of racial slurs, saying they don’t want us serving in the African-American community. That’s what they were pretty much angry about. One of them came around as I was stepping out and physically attacked me. The other one tore up inside the vehicle, ransacking through the vehicles.”

Rob Gaudet, with the Cajun Navy, says they’ve already contacted the authorities regarding the incident.

“We are working with authorities with Lake Charles Police Department on it,” Gaudet says. “They are looking for the suspects. As far as I know, they don’t have anybody caught yet. Although I think they have some people in mind.”

Lake Charles police have confirmed that this is an ongoing investigation and that they are attempting to catch the men responsible.

But this has done little to put Johnson at ease.

“I’m nervous in the sense of, I just need to be more aware especially until they are caught,” she said.

In the meantime, the Cajun Navy Organization says they are packing their bags as they shut down their Lake Charles Operations due to the severity of this incident and several other factors.

“Organizations get slammed for all kinds of stuff,” says Johnson. “There’s always some internal or external something but nothing that would cause this.”

There is no timeline as of yet on when the Cajun Navy plans to move boots out of the area.

Statements from Mayor Nic Hunter and Chief Shawn Caldwell:

“Detectives with our Investigations Division, under the direction of Deputy Chief Franklin Fondel, have been investigating this incident since the initial call was received,” Caldwell said. “Public safety remains our top priority and an assault of any nature is always taken seriously.”

“We understand the public shock and concern surrounding this incident and I assure you that this incident is receiving the proper attention of the Lake Charles Police Department,” Caldwell said. “As always, we will investigate in a thorough and professional manner.”

“I have great faith in the investigative abilities of the Lake Charles Police Department,” Mayor Nic Hunter said. “They have a proven track record and are committed to bringing closure to those impacted by crime. Additionally, if there were any knowledge of an orchestrated, ongoing effort to inflict harm on groups here in Lake Charles, the City would share that information with the public.”

The police ask anyone with information about the incident to call Detective W. Loving at 337-491-1311.

The Cajun Navy issued the following statement:

On Monday, June 21st at 2:30 pm, a disaster response volunteer (white female) with the Cajun Navy Ground Force was pulled from her vehicle and assaulted by two white males while attempting to assist an elderly citizen of our community.

The incident occurred near the corner of Ryan and Sale during daylight hours. The victim was the subject of an attempted rape and was severely physically assaulted and verbally abused before being left lying on the ground with cuts, fingernail scrapes and significant bruising all of which resulted in a torn and tattered shirt and other clothing. They also destroyed the inside of her car and stole the Cajun Navy signs on the doors of her truck.

As evidenced by the unthinkable racial slurs hurled at the victim during the assault, along with a note left on her car days later, the motive for the attack seems to be a clear effort to demoralize those who are offering assistance to the underserved African American communities within some of the hardest hit areas of Southwest Louisiana.

The victim has operated in full cooperation with Lake Charles police department, who responded quickly and who’s investigation is still ongoing. To our knowledge, as of the time of this submission, no arrests have been made.

The volunteer who was attacked visited the hospital bruised, scraped, and sore, yet returned to serving the community the next day. In response to the attack, the volunteer says, “As the victim of a targeted assault on a volunteer serving the Lake Charles area I feel an extreme responsibility to let the community know and be aware. To be aware that the attack was not just on me but on our community as a whole. That individuals who carry hate have infiltrated our community and are trying to stop us from serving our African American communities by using physical force, and repetitive words of hate and racism.”

As a testament to this united resolve, several volunteer organizations met on Friday, June 25th. The meeting was led by the Long Term Recovery Committee, which is charged with the execution of an effective and efficient recovery effort. The attack on the volunteer was discussed, as were ways to ensure volunteer safety, coordination, and collaborations in the future. We would like to acknowledge both Mayor Hunter’s and Police Chief Caldwell’s presence and participation in our meeting.

As the Cajun Navy Ground Force, along with those we serve beside, we want those we serve to know that though we each have different means and methods of accomplishing it, our mission here is to both amplify our advocacy for and intensify our actions to ensure that Southwest Louisiana not only recovers from its natural disasters, but also overcomes any present social ills that would impact its resiliency as a community in the future.

Together, we have already hosted thousands of volunteers in an unprecedented disaster response. We want every volunteer that has come, as well as those that are on their way, to know that every effort has - and will - be taken to protect them while they are here. We strive to provide an unparalleled opportunity to impact the lives of those within our community.

We remain United in our commitment to those most vulnerable in this community regardless of their skin tone. We know that no disaster - whether natural or social - will ever prevail over love.

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