CROWN POINT— A Hammond man was sentenced to 15 years in prison Friday for the fatal shooting of another Hammond man last year at Martin Luther King Jr. Park.

Darren Ferguson, 40, pleaded guilty to the voluntary manslaughter of Jullius Brooks in exchange for a shorter sentence. Ferguson was originally charged with murder, which carries a minimum sentence of 45 years.

On Aug. 13, Ferguson confronted Brooks after his 10-year-old son told him that Brooks pulled his braids and threw basketballs at him, according to court records.

The two were not arguing, according to a probable-cause affidavit, but Ferguson said he saw Brooks reach into a bag and subsequently fired three shots. One of them killed Brooks.

Riding Shotgun with the Gary Fire Department

Surveillance footage played in court showed the confrontation, in which Brooks could be seen walking away from Ferguson and Ferguson following him.

The two were briefly out of frame, but moments later a crowd can be seen running from the basketball court.

“At 6:57:56 p.m. Brooks is seen collapsing on the southeast side of the basketball courts and cannot be seen to move again,” the affidavit says.

Detective Brian Webber testified that officers did not find a weapon on Brooks’ body.

Defense attorney Scott King touched on the epidemic of gun violence as he urged the judge to accept the plea deal.

King said the increased access to guns is due, in part, to a recently passed bill in the Indiana Legislature that doesn’t require gun owners to obtain a permit. He said this is why people could assume that there’s a gun when they see someone reach into a bag, as Ferguson did.

King also said Ferguson should be sentenced to probation, or if he does serve time it should be in Community Corrections rather than the Department of Corrections.

Judge Salvador Vasquez said probation or any altered form of incarceration would be inappropriate in this case.

Brooks’ mother, Angela, testified that prosecutors lied when they said Brooks’ family had been informed about the plea agreement. She said she wasn’t told the details of the agreement until it was already signed and submitted to the judge.

“I’m not a vengeful person, but I have to seek justice for my children,” she said.

She added that she learned about her son’s death from city residents instead of Hammond police and officers told her that the only victim was Ferguson’s 10-year-old son.

“My son didn’t go to Cancun,” Brooks said, “he went to the cemetery.”

Shortly after Brooks’ shooting and another that was unrelated, Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott Jr. shut down the basketball courts at MLK Park. Hoops were removed from the courts in August, but discussions started in December to reopen the park with some restrictions.

These restrictions are centered on enforcing parking near the park, with the goal to make the park a “locals-only” spot, according to previous reporting from The Times.

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