“There’s nothing more American than charging a Black man in his own attempted lynching,” Booker said at the news conference.
The incident, which occurred on July 4, 2020, near Bloomington, Ind., resulted in two of the men receiving felony charges. On Friday, Sonia Leerkamp, the special prosecutor for Monroe County, filed charges of felony assault and misdemeanor trespassing against Booker for the same incident.
Booker’s lawyers said Leerkamp filed the charges despite having presented no new evidence since July 2020.
“It is unprecedented,” attorney Katharine Liell said at the news conference on Monday. “I’ve been practicing well over 30 years in this state and … I have never seen a special prosecutor open a new case and file charges a year later.”
Booker said he and his attorneys believe Leerkamp is retaliating over his refusal to engage in a mediated resolution with the two men arrested in his assault. Booker said Monday he declined to do so because he would have to sign a confidentiality agreement and publicly forgive the men, whose charges would be dropped.
“For the entire year, the special prosecutor has pressured and bullied me at every turn that if I didn’t engage with the restorative justice, if I didn’t let charges be dismissed, that she would charge me,” Booker said. “It wasn’t out of any new evidence or any shocking revelations. It was simply that, once again, a Black person telling a White person no — and they were going to punish me.”
In a statement to The Washington Post, Leerkamp noted that Booker is presumed innocent of the charges unless proven guilty.
“That being said, unlike Mr. Booker, I am ethically restrained from commenting upon the evidence prior to its presentation at trial,” Leerkamp said. “I am doing my best to apply the law to the facts available to me and to follow the principle that we are a nation of laws, not men.”
Booker, a local activist and a member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission, which advocates for residents’ civil rights, made national headlines last summer after his Facebook post and videos recounting the July 4 incident went viral.
Booker said he and a friend were making their way to Lake Monroe, a reservoir about 10 miles southeast of Bloomington, to meet up with a group to watch the lunar eclipse in a park. Along the way, they encountered a White man wearing an oversized Confederate hat, who Booker said began following them in an ATV. The man then stopped Booker and his friend and said they were walking on private property.
Booker and his friend apologized and explained that the event organizer said they had permission from the landowners to walk through the property. Soon after, Booker said he and other members of the group attempted to “smooth over” the dispute since more attendees would probably be walking on the property.
But the discussion “quickly became aggressive,” Booker wrote on Facebook. As he walked away, some of the men started following them, he said, yelling obscene remarks. Then, “two of them jumped me from behind and knocked me to the ground,” Booker wrote in the post.
He claims they dragged him, pinned his body against a tree, pounded on his head and ripped out some of his hair. Video from the incident shows Booker on all fours, wedged between the tree and one of the men.
Booker said he heard one of the men yell, “We’re going to break his arms.” Another, he said, shouted, “Get a noose!”
More people arrived on the scene, some of whom recorded parts of the altercation. One person can be heard in a video begging the group to “please let him go,” referring to Booker.
After they released Booker, one of the men is seen in a video clip yelling at him, calling him a “nappy-headed b----." The man continued, “You happy about this? You happy with your five White friends?”
During the news conference on Monday, Guy Loftman of the NAACP’s Monroe County Branch said one of the alleged attackers, Sean Purdy, later told the Indiana Department of Natural Resources that he pushed Booker, who then punched him. Although Booker disputes those claims, Loftman said Purdy’s statement proves that if Booker had punched him, he was acting in self-defense.
Purdy and Jerry Cox II were charged on July 17, 2020, with three felonies, including criminal confinement, battery and intimidation. Later that month, the state prosecutor recused herself from the case for unknown reasons, and Leerkamp took over.
Booker said upon meeting with Leerkamp, “Before she even had read the case file … she was adamant that I needed to take responsibility.” Booker refused, and for a year, he resisted mediation.
“I don’t care if she drags me back to the hanging tree,” Booker said. “I am not going to back down from this. I am not going to just let these folks go on about their lives like they didn’t victimize me. like their crime didn’t impact an entire community. I’m going to stand up for myself.”
In a statement, the NAACP branch said the charges against Booker are racially motivated.
“But for Booker being Black, no one would have suggested that he was the criminal,” said the statement, which Loftman read at the news conference. “This is systemic racism in action. … If the Black man won’t go along with letting them off the hook, he will be punished.”
Loftman added: “Blaming the Black victim has gone on too long. Let it stop in Vauhxx Booker’s case.”
Booker said at the news conference that dealing with the case over the past year “has been humiliating and defeating.”
“For some folks it was a year ago, for me it’s happened every day,” he said.