As of early Tuesday morning, there was still no word from the Monroe County prosecutor’s office on possible charges arising from an incident that took place at Lake Monroe on July 4.
In a Facebook post the following day, local activist and Monroe County human rights commissioner, Vauhxx Booker, described himself as “almost the victim of an attempted lynching.”
Since then, demonstrations with a few hundred people have been held on the courthouse square in downtown Bloomington and Booker has given a few press conferences. At one of the press events he and his legal counsel called for a federal grand jury to be convened.
On Monday, David Hennessy, an attorney who represents Sean Purdy and Caroline McCord, two of the people who were involved in the incident, and whom Booker is accusing, gave a press conference.
Hennessy argued a case for his clients, saying that Booker was “the instigator and the agitator” in the incident.
Hennessy led off by saying that Booker was using his race—Booker is a Black man—to accuse his clients of something they didn’t do. “It’s deplorable that any person would be targeted because of their race. It is equally deplorable that someone would use their race to promote and arouse public passion over a false accusation,” Hennessy said.
A complete video record of the July 4 incident does not appear to exist. Hennessy seemed to imply at one point during the press conference that there could be additional video footage that supports his clients’ version of events: “And you don’t have all the video OK?” At another point Hennessy said, “You don’t have the whole video.”
But when asked to clarify by a reporter, those remarks may have been allusions to the fact that the videos that have been posted by Booker don’t show the whole event. Hennessy response to the reporter: “We don’t have any video.”
A crucial way the narratives conflict is how the physical interaction between Booker and Purdy started. Booker says, “Two of them jumped me from behind and knocked me to the ground. I tussled with the two and another one joined in, then two more. 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.”
One point of agreement is the verb “tussle.” Hennessy described the activity in part this way: “They’re tussling around, he’s trying to get him down…”
But that tussling arose, Hennessy said, because Booker was jabbing his finger in McCord’s face, when Purdy intervened to protect his girlfriend: “[Booker] gets in Caroline’s face…Her boyfriend, Mr. Purdy, steps in between them to get distance for her. He’s afraid for her. Mr. Booker then hits him three times, so he’s restrained.”
Asked by a reporter about the video depicting Purdy holding Booker down, Hennessy said, “If you go on a neighbor’s property, and you start punching people, you can be restrained. And he ended up against the tree.”
Hennessy presented reporters at the Indianapolis press conference with results of a polygraph test, that he said shows his clients were not trying to deceive anyone.
Asked by a reporter at the press conference why he would have his clients take a polygraph test, when results from such tests are not admissible in court, Hennessy said such tests can still be useful. They’re used in investigations routinely, according to Hennessy, “because in the process you get confessions from people and you can rule things out.”
Hennessy challenged Booker to take a polygraph test offering to pay for it. Booker and his attorney, Katherine Leill, responded later on Monday with a statement in response to the press conference, including a rejection of the idea that Booker should take such a polygraph test: “He doesn’t need to take a polygraph test. Look at the video. There are witnesses who saw Sean Purdy’s aggression and who heard the racist slurs of his friends. You cannot provoke racism.”
The idea that racism cannot be provoked appears to be a response to Hennessy’s description of Booker as “race baiting” his clients. Hennessy said that Booker “[got] one of [Purdy’s group] to say some racially insensitive stuff. And that goes back to my grandparents days, and it is offensive.”
At Monday’s press conference, more than once Hennessy questioned Booker’s credentials. Hennessy said that Booker claimed out at Lake Monroe to be a county commissioner: “[Booker] said specifically that he was a county commissioner, and there was going to be hefty fines, and he was going to ruin people’s lives.”
Booker is not a member of the three-member board of county commissioners. He’s a member of two different commissions established by the board: the human rights commission and the affordable housing advisory commission.
Hennessy questioned Booker’s actual participation in any activities of the human rights commission by saying he’d reviewed the minutes of the last several meetings of the commission that were posted on the Monroe County website. Hennessy concluded that Booker had not attended any of the meetings.
The reason that Hennessy didn’t find any minutes that reflected Booker’s participation is that the most recent meeting minutes posted there at the time—the page was updated Tuesday morning—were from Jan. 22, 2020. That’s the day that the board of commissioners appointed Booker to the commission. Booker’s predecessor attended that meeting. From the Jan. 22 meeting minutes:
It was discussed that the Monroe County Board of Commissioners appointed two new members to the HRC: Vauhxx Booker and Will Smith. They will replace Sue Wanzer and Paul White, who were thanked for their service to Monroe County.
Responding to a Square Beacon inquiry to Margie Rice, who’s the county attorney who provides staff support for the human rights commission, “There have been two meetings this year that Vauhxx could have attended and he attended them both, in February and June. We did not have HRC meetings in March, April, or May because of COVID.”
Another point of agreement is that both Booker and Hennessy’s clients say they want a conclusion to the investigation. Hennessy said, “They thought a quick and thorough investigation would reveal the truth, and it would be fairly reported, and they wouldn’t have to do this.”
Booker and Leill’s Monday statement says, “It is time for arrests. It is time for the Monroe County Prosecutor to file charges against the offenders who threatened to lynch Mr. Booker.”