A Black man in Indiana who accused two white men of attacking him last year and then was himself charged in connection to the incident is calling for the special prosecutor on the case to resign.
Vauhxx Booker, a local activist who lives in Bloomington, accused Sean Purdy and Jerry Edward Cox of assaulting him on July 4, 2020, while on his way to a park with some friends.
During the incident, Booker said one of his attackers used a slur and yelled for someone to "get a noose."
Purdy told state investigators at the time that the dispute began after he told Booker and his friend that they were on private property. He claimed that Booker had punched him during their dispute.
Purdy and Cox were both arrested, and Monroe County prosecutor Erika Oliphant charged them with criminal confinement, intimidation and battery; all felonies. Soon after the charges were filed, Oliphant recused herself from the case and special prosecutor Sonia Leerkamp took over.
At the time of the incident, state investigators released a report which stated that they found evidence of multiple crimes by Purdy and Cox, but also by Booker. The report said Booker could be potentially charged, but Oliphant had declined to do so.
On Friday, however, Leerkamp charged Booker with felony battery and misdemeanor criminal trespass.
Booker slammed the charges and accused Leerkamp of retaliating against him because he refused to participate in a mediated resolution with his attackers. At a press conference on Monday, Booker explained that he was initially open to resolving the case but backed out after he was told he would have to sign a confidentiality agreement and publicly forgive Purdy and Cox.
"I'm not going to back down from this. I'm not going to just let these folks go on about their life like they didn't victimize me," he said. "I'm going to stand up for myself."
Booker and his attorneys are calling for Leerkamp's resignation.
"Once again, there's nothing more American than charging a Black man in his own attempted lynching," Booker told reporters. "I wasn't surprised because, for the entire year the special prosecutor has pressured and bullied me at every turn that if I didn't ... let charges be dismissed that she would charge me."
"It wasn't out of any new evidence or any shocking revelation. It was simply that, once again, I was telling a white person no and they were going to punish me," he added.
His attorney, Katharine Liell, called Leerkamp's filing charges "unprecedented."
"I've been practicing well over 30 years in this state and I've only done criminal defense my entire career and I have never seen a special prosecutor open a new case and file it against somebody a year later," she said.
Leerkamp said in an emailed statement, "Mr. Booker is presumed innocent of any charges that have been filed. That being said, unlike Mr. Booker, I am ethically restrained from commenting upon the evidence prior to its presentation at trial. I am doing my best to apply the law to the facts and follow the principle that we are a country of laws, not men."
An attorney for Purdy declined to comment on Booker's charges and an attorney for Cox could not immediately be reached.
Booker had detailed the alleged assault in a Facebook post and accused Purdy and Cox of threatening to lynch him. He also shared several videos including one which showed a man pinning Booker against a tree.
According to Booker's post, he and a friend were walking to Lake Monroe to meet up with a group at a park when a man in a Confederate hat began following them and accused them of being on private property.
Booker said he and his friend apologized and told the man that they thought it was OK for them to walk through the property to get to the public park. In his post, Booker said that he and several others from their group tried to "smooth over" what had turned into a dispute because more people were expected to arrive and were going to be walking through the property.
Things escalated and Booker wrote that two men jumped him "from behind and knocked me to the ground." He said they then dragged him, pinned his body against a tree and pounded on his head.
At Monday's press conference, Booker and his attorneys said he did not deserve to be attacked and disputed Purdy's claims that Booker punched him. They said that Purdy had previously told investigators that he pushed Booker first and then Booker hit him. The attorneys said Purdy's statement, if true, shows that Booker was acting in self-defense.