FRANKLIN, Ind. — All three men facing charges in an incident at Lake Monroe on July 4, 2020 appeared in a Johnson County courtroom Friday afternoon. Lawyer arguments and witness testimony revealed that a collaborative attempt to resolve the case broke down this summer.
Special judge Lance Hamner heard defense arguments on a motion to dismiss the charges against the two men originally arrested in July 2020. Sean Purdy and Jerry Cox II are charged with criminal confinement, battery and intimidation.
Vauhxx Booker claims he was the victim of a racially motivated attack when he was held against a tree by Purdy at Lake Monroe on July 4 last year. Much of the incident was caught on cellphone video. Booker, a Black man, said someone threatened to “get a noose” during the incident. That is never heard on any of the videos made public. According to court documents, Booker ended up with a mild concussion and bald spots on his scalp, along with a scratch on his cheek and an abrasion on his knee.
Purdy claims Booker instigated the incident. He told investigators with the Department of Natural Resources that Booker and others had been trespassing on private property earlier in the day (July 4, 2020). Purdy says he gave Booker a ride on his cart explained to him where the property lines were located.
Purdy says later on the day, he encountered Booker yelling and pointing at his girlfriend. When Purdy got between them, he says Booker punched him in the chin, which left a bruise.
Cox says he saw Purdy and Booker in a scuffle and ran over to them. He says Booker got up and punched him, leaving Cox with a black eye. Cox says he also punched Booker a couple times.
The DNR investigation said the incident happened on public property and suggested potential charges against Booker as well. On July 30 of this year the special prosecutor in the case, Sonia Leerkamp, filed battery and trespassing charges against Booker in the 2020 incident.
Those charges were filed after an attempt at a peaceful resolution between all parties failed. Purdy and Cox both testified Friday that they voluntarily participated in a restorative justice program between March and July of this year to create a plan to repair any harm and make a combined public statement with Booker to bring healing to the community.
Anne Lehman, Facilitation Coordinator at the Center for Community Justice in Elkhart, Indiana, confirmed in her testimony that Purdy and Cox attended about five meetings and completed assignments required for the sessions. They believed the case would be dismissed when the restorative justice agreement was completed. But the facilitator confirmed that Booker withdrew from the process.
The judge denied a request for Booker and his attorney, Katherine Leill, to testify at Friday's hearing, and they left the hearing at that point. “We will not be testifying,” said Leill. “We were unnecessary. It was an abuse of process and a waste of time.”
The hearing lasted more than an hour. Purdy testified that he agreed to the restorative justice process because he had received bad media coverage that he said portrayed the incident inaccurately. He said he wanted to bring out the truth and avoid a trial. Purdy said he has received death threats and his business has suffered from negative media coverage of the incident.
Cox testified that he had learned something from the restorative justice program and was hopeful the case would be concluded through this process. But he was told Booker backed out of the agreement.
Leaving the courtroom Friday, Cox said he was disappointed the restorative just process broke down. “Yes, very much so,” said Cox.
“It was a collaborative process that everybody came to,” said Joseph Lozano, Cox’s attorney. “And then obviously, our position is that it did not fail because of my client or Mr. Purdy.”
“We thought we would be walking away today with no charges,” said Purdy leaving the courtroom.
The judge did not rule on the motion to dismiss the charges against Purdy and Cox. A jury trial is scheduled for March 1, 2022.
Meanwhile, Booker is now charged in a separate case with battery against an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer last weekend.