A little more than a year ago, Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant charged two men in connection with a July 4 incident, which then-Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker described at the time as an “attempted lynching.”
The special prosecutor is Sonia Leerkamp, a former prosecutor for Hamilton County.
The charges against Booker appeared on Indiana’s mycase.IN.gov public court records system late Friday afternoon.
Booker is charged with two offenses: battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, which is a felony; and criminal trespass, which is a misdemeanor.
Purdy and Cox were charged a year ago by Oliphant with the felonies of battery and criminal confinement or aiding in confinement. Video footage of the incident posted on Facebook and other social media shows Purdy holding Booker down against a tree.
The Monroe County branch of the NAACP released a statement Friday evening reacting to the charges.
The NAACP statement concludes: “The Monroe County Branch of the NAACP condemns the prosecution of Vauhxx Booker, demands that the charges against him be dropped immediately, and calls on special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp to resign.”
According to the online case entry, Booker is supposed to be served by the Jackson County sheriff with a summons for an initial hearing on Sept. 14. Booker recently moved from Bloomington to Indianapolis. But it’s not clear what the Jackson County connection is. Booker told The B Square he has not lived in Seymour, in Jackson County, in more than a decade.
According to the online case entry, the initial hearing for Booker is, for now, set to be held in front of Monroe County judge Valeri Haughton. Haughton and other judges in Monroe County previously recused themselves from the cases of Purdy and Cox.
That led to the appointment of a special judge, Lance Hamner, out of Johnson county, to try their cases. The same pattern of recusals and appointment of a special judge could unfold for Booker’s case.
Battery and criminal trespass by Booker are among the “potential crimes committed” that investigators from the Department of Natural Resources listed in their report on the incident, which was released in July 2020.
Based on the DNR report, when the case was under her jurisdiction, Oliphant did not file any charges against Booker. Under Indiana’s statute of limitations, a prosecution for a felony has to be started within five years after the alleged commission of an offense and within two years for a misdemeanor.
In response to an emailed question from The B Square, Booker’s attorney, Katherine Liell, wrote, “I will say this is highly unorthodox. Find me another case where a victim is charged a year later based on no new evidence, by a special prosecutor. ”
At a press conference in mid-July, a year ago, David Hennessy, an attorney who representing Purdy, said that Booker was “the instigator and the agitator” in the incident.
Booker described the July 4 incident this way: “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.”
The tussling arose, Hennessy said, because Booker was jabbing his finger in Purdy’s girlfriend’s face (Caroline McCord) and 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.”
On the question of Booker’s alleged punching of Purdy, Booker’s attorney, Katherine Liell, said at a press conference in July a year ago, “I believe that during the time that Mr. Booker was being attacked by all three men that indeed he was trying to protect himself. Whether he actually made contact with anyone, I don’t think even Mr. Booker knows at this time.”
In an interview on Friday evening, Booker said about the prosecutor’s decision: “Nothing is more American than charging a Black man in his own attempted lynching.”
The statement from the NAACP and a separate statement from Booker’s team are sharply critical of the special prosecutor’s decision to charge Booker. The NAACP’s statement reads: “[Special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp] filed these unjustified charges against him, after sitting on them for over a year, and with no new investigatory information to support them.”
The statement from the NAACP continues, “Special prosecutor Leerkamp followed the lead of the DNR. Protect Purdy and his racist friends, and treat Booker, defending himself from an attack on public property, as a trespasser assaulting landowners.”
The statement from Booker’s team characterizes Leerkamp’s decision to charge him as “an outrageous act of punitive retaliation and prosecutorial vindictiveness.”
Restorative justice is a system that seeks to rehabilitate offenders by reconciling them with their victims.
According to the statement from Booker’s team, Leerkamp threatened Booker with charges, if the restorative justice process wasn’t successful. According to the statement, Booker withdrew from the restorative justice sessions, “once it became apparent that the process was a ruse to allow his attackers to evade justice.”
The probable cause affidavit for the arrest of Purdy and Cox, which was produced by the DNR, mentions the allegations of a call for a noose, when Booker was being held down, and allegations that “white power” was shouted sometime during the day.
At the mid-July news conference, Hennessy accused Booker of using his race to accuse his client of something he 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.
Last year, Booker and Liell were looking to the feds to prosecute the incident as a hate crime, because of the additional facts they say were not included in the DNR’s report.
Those facts include epithets that were directed at Booker in connection with the incident. Liell said at the time, “We continue to cooperate with the FBI—we trust them more than we trust DNR. And so Vauhxx has already submitted to quite a lengthy interview.”
The hoped-for outcome of the FBI investigation was prosecution for violation of federal hate crime laws.
The DNR investigative report chronicles a couple of followup visits to the site, in an attempt to locate the specific tree where Booker was held down. The report gives the latitude and longitude of the tree, determined by the DNR to be the one where Booker was held down by Purdy.
The DNR report on the incident concluded that the tree is on the public side of the property line, between public land and property owned by Purdy’s girlfriend, Caroline McCord. That’s consistent with a B Square plot of the coordinates using Monroe County GIS property records.
The potential crime of trespass by Booker, listed in the DNR report, appears to have been based on the apparent crossing of private land at other times during the day.
The next scheduled activity for the cases of Purdy and Cox, which are being heard by special judge Lance Hamner out of Johnson County, is a pre-trial conference set for Aug. 20.