2 men charged in assault on Black man at Indiana lake


FILE – In this July 4, 2020, image taken from video provided by Brennan Golightly, a group of people surround Vauhxx Booker, center, as he is bent over leaning against a tree, at Monroe Lake near Bloomington, Ind. Two men are facing charges after Booker said a group of white men assaulted him in Indiana and threatened to “get a noose” after claiming that he and his friends had trespassed on private property. Monroe County prosecutors on Friday, July 17, 2020, charged Sean Purdy, left, with felonies of criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and intimidation. Jerry Cox II has been charged with felony criminal confinement and battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, as well as two misdemeanors. (Brennan Golightly via AP File)

INDIANAPOLIS (News Nation) — Two men were charged Friday in an assault on a Black man during which he says someone threatened to “get a noose” after telling the man 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 Bloomington.

Purdy’s defense attorney, David Hennessy, had no immediate comment on the charges. Hennessy previously said Booker has presented “a false narrative” and called Booker “the instigator and the agitator.”

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

Booker said five men accused him of trespassing on private property. He said 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 his attorney Katherine Liell said they were “relieved” by the charges, but that it was “just the first step towards justice and change.”

“This whole thing has been an exercise in vulnerability for me,” Booker said during a news conference Friday. “But this is about justice. What I want now is for our neighbors to do their part and determine the fate of these individuals.”

Liell also criticized a report produced by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that indicated Booker and one of his acquaintances could also be accused of crimes, saying it “erased evidence of racism and of a hate crime” and attempted to malign Booker.

“Of course he didn’t commit a battery,” Liell said. “They tried to make Vauhxx Booker look like he wasn’t credible.”

DNR officers responded to the scene when Booker reported the assault.

Hennessy has said that Booker was on private property on the day of the incident, and that after Purdy and his friends informed Booker of the property line, the situation was assumed to be resolved. Then Hennessy said that hours later, Booker once again approached Purdy and a group of others. Witnesses with Purdy and Cox told DNR investigators that Booker threatened them, and said he was a county commissioner. Then, a witness said, Booker “got in the face” of Purdy’s girlfriend and punched Purdy three times.

Cox said Booker also punched him in the face and that he “was pretty sure” he hit Booker twice in the face.

Purdy, Cox and Booker all sustained minor injuries, according to the probable cause affidavit. Liell said Friday that Booker was trying to protect himself, but due to a concussion he sustained during the altercation, he doesn’t remember exact details.

Booker was recently diagnosed with the coronavirus, and Liell said his illness could be connected to “spitting and yelling” during the alleged attack. No information has been released on the health status of the men charged in the attack.

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

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