July 17, 2020

2 Men Charged In Assault On Black Man At Indiana Lake

The Monroe County Courthouse - file photo

The Monroe County Courthouse

file photo

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Two men were charged Friday in an assault on a Black man during which someone threatened to “get a noose” after claiming that he and his friends were trespassing when they gathered at a southern Indiana lake over the July Fourth weekend.

Monroe County prosecutors charged Sean Purdy with 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.

Warrants have been issued for their arrests, Monroe County Prosecuting Attorney Erika Oliphant said.

The charges follow weeks of protests demanding arrests in the assault on Vauhxx Booker, a civil rights activist and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission. Booker said he called 911 after the men assaulted him and pinned him to a tree at Lake Monroe just south of Booker’s hometown of Bloomington.

Purdy's defense attorney, David Hennessy, had no immediate comment on the charges. Hennessy previously said Booker has presented “a false narrative” about what happened. Hennessy alleged Booker “was the instigator and the agitator.”

It wasn't immediately known if Cox had a lawyer who could speak on his behalf.

Booker said the group of five men accused him of trespassing on private property. After he tried to apologize, the situation got physical. Booker said the men threatened to break his arms and said, “get a noose,” while telling his friends to leave the area. Booker 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.”

Booker and attorney Katherine Liell said they were “relieved” by the charges but that they believe this is “just the first step towards justice and change.”

“We will watch closely to ensure that the individuals arrested for perpetrating this disgusting and sickening attack against Mr. Booker are duly punished,” they said in an emailed statement.

Booker planned a news conference for Friday afternoon.

Officers with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources who responded to the alleged assault released a 68-page investigatory report to The Associated Press Thursday through a public records request. It indicates that Purdey, Cox, Booker and one of Booker’s acquaintances potentially committed crimes.

Hennessy has said that Booker was on private property on the day of the incident, and that after Purdy and his associates informed Booker of the property line, the situation was assumed to be resolved. Hennessy contends that hours later, however, Booker again approached Purdy and a group of others. Witnesses told DNR 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.

Purdy, Cox and Booker all sustained minor injuries, according to the probable cause affidavit.

The FBI said it was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, though no additional updates have been provided about the status of its investigation.

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.

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