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Crime News Black Lives Matter

Indiana Activist Who Says He Survived Attempted Lynching Charged With Assault

Vauhxx Booker, a former of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, faces a felony charge in an incident he called a hate crime.

By Megan Carpentier
Vauhxx Booker G

A civil rights activist and former local official now faces charges in Monroe County, Indiana after prosecutors charged him in a 2020 incident that he claims was an aborted effort to lynch him.

Vauhxx Booker, 37, faces one felony count of battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and one misdemeanor count of criminal trespass over the 2020 Independence Day celebration gone wrong near the abandoned Zoom Floom at Lake Monroe, which is about 10 miles south of Bloomington, Indiana.

The two men previously identified as the alleged aggressors in the attack on Booker — Sean Purdy, 45, and Jerry Cox, 39 — still face multiple felony and misdemeanor charges in the incident as well, including battery, criminal confinement and intimidation charges. Neither has been charged with a hate crime, despite Booker's statements about the attack and a reported FBI investigation into it.

According to multiple news reports and a 68-page report by the Indiana Department of Natural Resources released in mid-July 2020, Booker was one of a number of people invited to a party on a state beach for a combined lunar eclipse viewing-Independence Day camping party. The campsite was not readily accessible from the road, and the organizer had suggested that people either walk along the beach, which was a longer route but on state land, or cut across private property that belonged to the McCord family. (The organizer, Frederick "Max" Walsh, later told investigators that the shortcut had been used by the public "for decades," a characterization that the owner's daughter, Caroline McCord, disputes.)

Walsh told investigators that he arrived to his campsite on public land on July 3 and encountered Purdy, Cox and the other members of their party, describing them as rowdy; he warned the people coming to his party that there were "good ole boys" around and how to explain where they were going if they encountered them. Prior to his guests' arrival, he said he was visited by Purdy (who was sporting a cowboy hat with a Confederate flag), enjoined to provide him and his friends with beer and heard them bring up "white power" several times.

Booker and his friend, Ian Watkins, reportedly either used Walsh's shortcut or got lost and ended up on McCord's land on their way to the party on the afternoon of July 4, and encountered Purdy — and his Confederate flag hat. Purdy escorted them on his ATV to Walsh's campsite and advised them to stay off his land; Booker gave him a beer and the three parted way, according to Watkins' account.

Later on, another guest arrived at Walsh's site via the shortcut, and said that he'd heard someone shouting "white power" from a boat further down the beach. Booker, who was a member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, reportedly told his friends that he wanted to go talk to the other partiers and try to explain why the Confederate flag hat and the sloganeering was inappropriate.

At this point, the stories of the two parties converge: Purdy, Cox and the McCord family, who all told investigators that they were intoxicated, claim that Booker was very aggressive in his confrontation with them and claimed to be some sort of government official. Booker, who went to talk to the group with Watkins in tow, denies that he was aggressive; Watkins supports Booker's version of events.

Purdy says he initiated physical contact by shoving Booker because he didn't appreciate the way he was addressing McCord; Purdy and McCord then say Booker punched Purdy. Watkins says the men of the other group all ganged up on Booker, who did not fight back, shoving him to the ground and striking him. Cox, for his part, says he ran up to Booker and Purdy fighting on the ground, took one punch from Booker and then punched Booker several times hard enough to hurt his hand. (McCord says Cox didn't punch Booker at all.) Watkins says that, at this point, several of the men there told him to leave and referred to Booker as "the boy" and that he heard one of them shout for first a rope and then a noose, as Booker has also described.

At this point, everyone agrees that Walsh and several people from his party arrived to find Booker pinned to a tree with, they say, one arm pinned behind him. This is where most of the videos pick up, including the one that went viral; Walsh's group's demands and entreaties for Booker to be released are ultimately successful. (Investigators ultimately determined that the tree on which Purdy held Booker was on public property, not McCord's.)

As the two groups parted ways, the one led by Purdy and Cox escorted the Walsh group off McCord's land, berating Booker and the others and shouting profane insults — including calling Booker a "nappy-headed b----." Booker encouraged the men to call him the word they wanted to use instead; no one used a different word.

The police were then called.

Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant filed charges against Purdy and Cox in mid-July 2020 after the DNR report came out, but then recused herself from the case. Special Prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp filed the charges against Booker more than a year later. It's unclear what, if any, new evidence prompted the delayed charges against Booker. 

Cox and Purdy are due in court Aug. 20. Booker was originally scheduled to face his first court hearing in the case on Sept. 14 but that has been indefinitely postponed.