A black activist who said that a group of white men assaulted him, pinned him to a tree and threatened to ‘get a noose’ has now been hit with felony charges in connection with the incident that made national headlines.
Vauhxx Booker, 37, a local civil rights leader and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, was charged with misdemeanor trespass and felony battery last week.
He was hit with the charges over his involvement in the confrontation that took place on July 4, 2020, at Lake Monroe, Indiana, according to court documents filed last Friday by a special prosecutor in the case.
Booker condemned the decision, calling it an ‘outrageous act of punitive retaliation and prosecutorial vindictiveness.’
During a press conference held on Monday outside Monroe County courthouse, Booker said: ‘there’s nothing more American than charging a black man in his own attempted lynching,’
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Vauhxx Booker (center), who claimed to have been attacked by a group of white men in July 2020, speaks during a press conference on August 2 after a special prosecutor charged him with felony assault and trespassing over a year later
Booker’s alleged attackers Sean Purdy (left) and Jerry Cox II (right) were charged with felonies last summer
Booker slammed the decision to bring charges against him as an ‘outrageous act of punitive retaliation and prosecutorial vindictiveness’
If convicted as charged, Booker could face more than three years in prison and $15,000 in fines.
The Monroe County Branch of the NAACP demanded that the charges against Booker be dropped immediately and called for the special prosecutor, Sonia Leerkamp, to resign.
‘This incident has been a continual case of a victim being re-victimized by the system,’ Booker’s legal team said in statement Monday. ‘It is the victim in this assault – Vauhxx Booker – who is being made to pay for having stood his ground against malicious racist name-calling, physical assault, and threats against his life.’
The alleged assault gained widespread attention last summer when Booker said he called 911 after five white men attacked him and pushed him against a tree at the lake just south of Bloomington.
He said the men accused him of trespassing on private property and, after he tried to apologize, the situation turned physical.
Part of the July 4, 2020, confrontation at an Indiana lake was captured on video, which shows at least three white men pinning Booker to a tree. Booker posted the footage on Facebook along with his version of events
Footage recorded by Booker shows several of the white men cursing and using racially-charged language at him after he said onlookers were able to pull him out of harm’s way
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.
The FBI said it was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, although no further updates have been provided about the investigation.
The Indiana Department of Natural Resources, which responded to the reported assault, recommended charges against everyone involved, including Booker.
Monroe County prosecutors only charged two white men, however. Sean Purdy faces 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.
Cox and Purdy claimed Booker was trespassing and denied the allegations regarding a noose. Both maintain that Booker threatened them first, and their lawyers have said the two men are victims of a ‘smear campaign.’
Purdy’s attorney David Hennessy denied Booker’s allegations, saying that he was the instigator, and that his client was the victim of a ‘smear campaign’
The case against Cox and Purdy is still pending more than a year later, awaiting a trial date.
At Monday’s press conference, Booker accused Leerkamp of threatening to bring charges against him for the past year, unless he agreed to have the charges dropped against Purdy and reconcile with him, reported The Washington Post.
‘I am not going to let these folks go on about their lives like they didn’t victimize me, like their crime didn’t impact an entire community,’ Booker said. ‘I am going to stand up for myself.’
Leerkamp indirectly defended her decision to charge Booker in a statement to The Post by saying that she was doing her ‘best to apply the law to the facts available to me and to follow the principle that we are a nation of laws, not men.’
Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant recused herself from the case in response to public concern about whether she was impartial.
The charges against Booker, filed in Monroe Circuit Court, are the same recommended by IDNR investigators last summer. An initial hearing is set for September 14.
Booker has said that he and his friend were on their way to watch the lunar eclipse at an organized event on July 4, 2020, when a white man with ‘an oversized hat with a confederate flag print on it’ began following them in an ATV.
Booker claimed the man informed him and his friend that they were trespassing on private property, so they apologized and continued on their way to the event.
That’s when he said the man and his friends began following him and two of them knocked him to the ground from behind.
‘I tussled with the two and another one joined in, then two more,’ he wrote in a viral Facebook post about the incident. ‘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.’
‘They held me pinned and continued beating me for several minutes seemingly become more and more enraged as they kept trying to seriously injure me and failing. At one point during the attack one of the men jumped on my neck. I could feel both his feet and his full bodyweight land hard against my neck.’
Booker further claimed that one of the men threatened to break an arms and repeatedly called out: ‘Get a noose.’
Only part of the altercation was captured in videos recorded by Booker’s acquaintances that he included in his Facebook post.
One clip shows Booker hunched over as at least two men pinned him against a tree and several other people in their group crowded around, while Booker’s friends begged for them to let him go.
A second clip, filmed after Booker was released, shows a man repeatedly calling someone off-camera a ‘nappy-headed b***h’.
In a third clip the same man yells: ‘You invaded us!’ and calls someone in Booker’s group a ‘stupid f**king liberal f**ks.’
As Booker’s group walks away, one of the men follows them shouting: ‘Those black boys want to start it all.’
Booker, pictured above crying during a press conference last year, claimed that a special prosecutor had been pressuring him for a year to reconcile with Purdy
Booker said he suffered a minor concussion, cuts, bruises and had patches of his hair pulled out during the attack.
Many of Booker’s descriptions, including the lead-up to the confrontation, the call to ‘get a noose’, the threat to break his arms and a man stomping on his neck, were not captured by the videos.
Witnesses told IDNR investigators that Booker threatened them, claiming to be a county commissioner. Then, he said, Booker ‘got in the face’ Purdy´s girlfriend and punched Purdy three times.
Cox, who is Purdy’s friend, said Booker also punched him in the face and that he ‘was pretty sure’ that he hit Booker twice in the face.
Defense lawyer David Hennessy claimed that Booker was the instigator of the violence and accused him of ‘race baiting.’ The attorney said Purdy did not hear or said ‘get a noose,’ but that ‘some racially insensitive stuff’ was said by people known to them.
‘No talk of a noose, no talk of a rope, no talk of a lynching. No white power,’ he said.