Investigators list potential crimes in assault case

By CASEY SMITH
The Associated Press/Report for America

INDIANAPOLIS — State investigators identified six potential crimes Thursday in an incident report concerning the reported assault on a Black man at a southern Indiana lake.

Vauhxx Booker, a local civil rights activist and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, said five white men pinned him against a tree, shouted racial slurs and one of them threatened to “get a noose” at Monroe Lake near Bloomington over Independence Day weekend.

The Indiana Department of Natural Resources responded to the scene on the day of the alleged assault and released the 68-page document to The Associated Press Thursday following a public records act request. In it, potential crimes committed by four people — on both sides of the altercation — are indicated.

Sean Purdy, whose lawyer spoke out Monday saying Booker has been “putting forth a false narrative” about what happened, is listed as facing potential charges of felony criminal confinement and misdemeanor battery against Booker. Booker himself is named as potential victim, as well as a suspect on charges of battery and criminal trespassing against Purdy and another man involved in the incident, Jerry Cox. Cox could also face misdemeanor battery charges, according to the DNR recommendations.

Ian Watkins, who was with Booker at the lake that day, could also face a criminal trespass charge.

Investigators “determined there was evidence of multiple crimes” after conducting more than a dozen interviews with witnesses and those involved in the physical altercation. Video footage from cellphones was also gathered and reviewed.

Purdy's lawyer, David Hennessy, claims that Booker was on private property on the day of the incident. During a Monday press conference, Hennessy said that after Purdy and his associates informed Booker of the property line, the situation was assumed to be resolved. Hennessy contends that hours later, however, Booker again approached Purdy and a group of others. Witnesses told DNR investigators that Booker threatened them, claiming to be a county commissioner. That’s when Booker allegedly "got in the face” Purdy's girlfriend and proceeded to punch Purdy three times.

An emailed statement Thursday from Booker and attorney Katherine Liell said the information released by Indiana’s Department of Natural Resources was done improperly and follows a refusal by the officers to make any arrests after the incident.

“This is inappropriate conduct by a law enforcement agency to publicly release documents which are generally denied even under Indiana public access laws,” the statement said. “Why are they doing it? Because they are threatened and embarrassed, since they didn’t do the right thing two weeks ago.”

Booker and Liell also wrote that references to Booker possibly facing charges is “inexcusable, immoral, and more evidence that racism is systemic.”

“Vauhxx Booker has not committed any crimes and is a free man,” the statement said. “He refused to be subjected to an interview with the same DNR officers who refused to listen to him July 4 when he was attacked.”

A lawyer for Purdy didn't respond Thursday to a message seeking comment.

Cox, a friend of Purdy's who told investigators he had permission to be on the property that day, said he was also punched in the face by Booker. Cox additionally said he “was pretty sure” that he hit Booker twice in the face.

Booker has a different story about what happened. He said he was pinned to a tree at the lake just south of Booker’s hometown of Bloomington and that the group of five men accused him of trespassing on private property. After he tried to apologize, he said 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 also said one of the men had a hat with a Confederate flag on it and that the men made statements about “white power.”

Witnesses who were with Booker that day told investigators they heard racial slurs being shouted and that someone said “get a noose" and "leave the boy here, we will take care of him”.

The DNR investigation shows Cox and Booker both sustained minor injuries.

No charges have been filed yet, but the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office is now reviewing the evidence and weighing potential charges, said Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Kehr. The FBI confirmed it also is still investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.

Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.”




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