A black Indiana man who claimed a group of white men threatened to lynch him during a Fourth of July confrontation last year is now facing criminal charges himself.
Vauhxx Rush Booker, of Seymour, was charged Friday with felony battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and misdemeanor criminal trespass in the July 2020 encounter at Lake Monroe that attracted international media coverage, The Herald-Times reported.
Less than two weeks after the incident, prosecutors charged two white men following a “thorough review” of evidence, including video footage of the alleged attack. Sean Purdy, 45, of Pittsboro, was charged with criminal confinement with bodily injury, battery with moderate injury and intimidation.
Jerry Edward Cox II, 39, of Danville, was also charged with inducing or causing criminal confinement and battery, as well as three misdemeanors, the newspaper reported.
Booker, an activist and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, said last July in a detailed Facebook post that five men accused him of trespassing on private property and pinned him to a tree as one of them said to “get a noose.”
Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant did not file charges against Booker, 37, before passing the case along to a special prosecutor despite a 68-page Indiana Department of Natural Resources report that recommending charging all three men.
The report determined evidence justified battery and trespassing charges against Booker for allegedly punching Cox and Purdy, as well as for returning to the private property where the fight took place after being escorted away, the newspaper reported.
Booker denounced the charges against him as racially motivated on Monday, the Herald-Times reported.
“There’s nothing more American than charging a black man in his own attempted lynching,” Booker said outside the Monroe County courthouse.
Booker, 37, said he intends to fight the charges he now faces a year after being allegedly assaulted — which his attorney characterized as “unprecedented” and a response to him not going along with terms of a proposed reconciliation plan in the case.
“I have never seen a prosecutor open a new case and file charges a year later,” attorney Katharine Liell said of special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp, who charged Booker after Oliphant recused herself from the controversial case.
Booker has an initial hearing set for Sept. 14, the Times-Herald reported. He denied the allegations Monday.
“I’m not this black man traipsing across the land attacking white folk,” he said. “The issue is me and what I look like.”
An online petition signed by more than 1,300 people calls for the charges against Booker to be dropped and for Leerkamp to resign. Booker reportedly faces more than three years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines if convicted.
“Special Prosecutor Leerkamp pressured Mr. Booker to participate in restorative justice sessions with his attackers who expressed no remorse,” the petition reads.
The case against Cox and Purdy, meanwhile, is still pending and no trial date has been set. They claim Booker instigated the encounter, according to the Indiana Daily Student, a newspaper published at Indiana University in Bloomington.
The FBI announced last July that it was investigating the case as a possible hate crime, but no additional updates have since been provided.