Special prosecutor sought in alleged Monroe Co. attack on Black man

A special prosecutor is being sought to handle the cases of two white men charged in an alleged assault on a Black man who says he was attacked at a southern Indiana lake and that someone threatened to “get a noose.”

Monroe County Prosecutor Erika Oliphant recused herself Wednesday and requested a special prosecutor in response to a motion filed earlier Wednesday by an attorney for one of the charged men, Sean M. Purdy of Pittsboro, Indiana, seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor.

Oliphant will also step aside in the criminal case against Jerry E. Cox Jr. of Danville, who she also charged on July 17 in the alleged attack, deputy prosecutor Jeff Kehr told The Herald-Times.

Purdy, 44, and Cox, 38, both face criminal confinement, battery and intimidation charges in the alleged July 4 assault on Vauhxx Booker, a civil rights activist and member of the Monroe County Human Rights Commission.

Booker said he called 911 after the men assaulted him and pinned him to a tree at Lake Monroe, just south of Bloomington. He said five men accused him of trespassing on private property and after he tried to apologize, 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. He said one of the men wore a hat decorated with a Confederate flag and that the men made statements about “white power.”

Witnesses who were with Booker that day said 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 FBI said it was investigating the incident as a possible hate crime. 

Purdy’s lawyer, David Hennessy, alleged in his request for a special prosecutor that Oliphant engaged in selective prosecution and was biased by public pressure and support for Booker.

His motion asked a judge to schedule a hearing where he intended to present evidence and argue that Oliphant was wrong not to file criminal charges against Booker, but that hearing is no longer necessary in light of Oliphant’s decision request for a special prosecutor in Cox and Purdy’s cases.

Hennessy said he was surprised and pleased by Oliphant’s swift action to hand off the cases.

He has said that Booker was on private property on the day of the incident, and 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. Then, he said, Booker “got in the face” of Purdy’s girlfriend and punched Purdy three times.

Hennessy wrote in his motion that “the Monroe County prosecutor’s office ignored that Mr. Booker has agitated others with the hope of being a victim and is seeking fame and fortune at the expense of people he victimized.”

A publicist representing Booker addressed Hennessy’s claims in a statement emailed Wednesday.

“Despite what appears to be a gross inequity, no matter who the prosecutor is, the facts of the case remain the same,” it states.

A lawyer representing Caroline McCord, Purdy’s girlfriend, filed a motion Tuesday seeking a special prosecutor to investigate why Oliphant did not charge Booker with any crimes. Her motion states that Booker trespassed on private property and intimidated McCord by claiming to be a county official and threatened to assess fines against her.

Kehr said it would be up to a judge to issue a ruling on that request.

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