Likely response to new charges in year-old Lake Monroe incident: Challenge to special prosecutor’s jurisdiction

Last Friday, charges of battery and criminal trespass were filed by a special prosecutor against former Bloomington resident Vauhxx Booker, in connection with an incident that took place a year ago on July 4, near Lake Monroe.

A motion to challenge the special prosecutor’s jurisdiction to file charges against Booker will probably be made in the next few weeks.  In any event, that motion would come before the scheduled first hearing date in front of a judge, currently set for Sept. 14.

That’s the word from Booker’s attorney, Katherine Liell, who joined Booker and representatives from the Monroe County branch of the NAACP, for a news conference early Monday afternoon.

The news conference, held on the southeast corner of the Monroe County courthouse lawn, was attended by at least a half dozen news outlets.

The NAACP released a statement last Friday evening condemning special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp’s decision to charge Booker.

The filing of charges against Booker came a year after two other men were charged in their role of allegedly assaulting Booker in an incident at Lake Monroe, which Booker described at the time as an “attempted lynching.”

Booker’s team released a statement on Friday that described how the special prosecutor allegedly threatened him with the charges that were filed, if he did not participate in a “restorative justice” process. Booker said he withdrew from that process when it was evident to him that his alleged attackers felt no remorse.

On Friday, Booker alluded to the restorative justice process in his concluding remarks at the news conference. “They wait till after I refuse to publicly go on a ‘forgiveness tour’ with these men to charge me.”

Booker added, “This isn’t about justice. This is about making me bend to the will of folks that feel like they should be over me.

Liell did not provide details, but said, “We do need to challenge [special prosecutor Leerkamp’s] jurisdiction to do this. So I anticipate that there will be legal challenges to the propriety of the filing itself. And that will have to be determined, before anything substantive can move on.”

Another piece of news from the Monday afternoon news conference included the fact that Booker had previously filed a tort claim against Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) over procedural missteps in their investigation. Among other alleged missteps committed by DNR investigators was their decision on arrival at the scene to first talk to Booker’s alleged assailants, when it was Booker who had made the call to 911.

That tort claim could now wind up in court. William Morris, an attorney working on Booker’s legal team, announced on Tuesday afternoon that the tort claim against the DNR had been filed several months ago. “We’re waiting for a response on that,” Morris said. He continued, “And if no response is forthcoming, we need to go ahead and proceed in filing an action in state court, against the employees’ irregularities in the investigative process.”

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.

It’s that report on which special prosecutor Leerkamp apparently relied in deciding to charge Booker. Last year, when the case was in the hands of Monroe County’s prosecutor Erika Oliphant, she charged Booker’s alleged attackers, Sean M. Purdy and Jerry Edward Cox, II with the felonies of battery and criminal confinement or aiding in confinement.

Oliphant did not file any charges against Booker.

Whether filing charges against additional people in the incident was in the scope of the special prosecutor’s jurisdiction appears to be the question that Booker’s team is looking to raise before any substantive decisions are made in the case.

The news conference was led off by president of Monroe County’s chapter of the NAACP, William Vance, who recounted the history of lynching in the United States.

After introductory remarks, during the period for questions, Guy Loftman, chair of the NAACP’s legal redress committee, fielded a question from the broadcast media about why Booker thinks he should not be charged for his role in the confrontation.

Loftman quoted from the DNR’s report of Sean Purdy’s testimony, where Purdy describes separating Booker from his girlfriend, Caroline McCord, by pushing Booker. After that, according to the DNR report, Purdy says that Booker punched him.

The sequence of those events—first the push and then the punch—set up a scenario where Booker was defending himself, so he should not be charged, according to Loftman.

Booker later clarified during the news conference that Purdy’s account was not accurate. Booker said he did not punch Purdy in response to being pushed. Loftman’s point, Booker said, was that even if Purdy’s own narrative were accepted as true, that would still mean he was defending himself.

In fact, Booker said, he was attacked from behind. “Oh, we absolutely tussled, once I was attacked, but I was attacked from behind.”

The Sept. 14 hearing is scheduled to take place 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.

Photos: Vauhxx Booker News Conference (Aug. 2, 2021)

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