An Indiana judge ruled last week that a Black man criminally charged in connection with a racially motivated July 2020 attack at Lake Monroe, in which he was allegedly the victim, can no longer receive representation from a public defender.
A special prosecutor in August charged 38-year-old Vauhxx Booker with battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, a felony and misdemeanor criminal trespass. Johnson County Superior Court Judge Lance Hamner ruled in favor of the Monroe County Public Defender’s Office’s request to deny Booker a public defender earlier this month.
The July 4, 2020, incident involving Booker and several others was filmed and shared widely on social media. In the video, several people surround Booker, allegedly trying to tie him to a tree, following a verbal altercation near Lake Monroe.
Two men, Sean M. Purdy, and Jerry E. Cox II, were charged in connection with the incident weeks later. An Indiana Department of Natural Resources report later found that Booker should also be charged with battery and trespassing because he allegedly punched Cox and Purdy, and returned to the private property after being escorted away the first time.
Booker, now facing charges in the Monroe Circuit Court, received more than $36,000 in donations through GoFundMe following the publicized altercation. Hamner in October granted Booker representation by way of a public defender after Booker said during a hearing that he was unemployed and had less than $500 in savings.
But the Public Defender’s Office filed a motion earlier this month, suggesting Booker “may not meet the definition of indigency needed for a public defender” because of the money collected in the GoFundMe account.
According to a state-run website, a person must tell the judge he or she cannot afford to hire an attorney, and provide the court with details about his or her financial situation to demonstrate financial need in order to get a public defender in Indiana.
Ashley Cranor, a friend of Booker, started the account in the days after the attack. “The intention of this campaign is to raise funds to allow Vauhxx to address he needs as he recovers,” Cranor wrote. She said Booker would need the money for medical costs, attorney’s fees and counseling to “deal with being assaulted while being black in America.”
Booker provided an update to donors in late October after he was charge.
“Many understand the inherent challenges associated with facing criminal charges, such as losing my job and health insurance. This type of vindictive prosecution should never be allowed to happen to anyone. I won’t allow myself to be bullied or intimidated by a unelected special prosecutor. Your contributions have allowed me to continue living my life and healing.”
On the day of the incident, Booker was at the lake with friends when another group approached and said they were on private property. Booker said he and his friends went on their way but encountered more people from the group later.
Men in the group blocked off entry points with ATVs, the situation escalated as some of the men began yelling “white power,” Booker said. He and a friend reportedly were trying to leave when he was ambushed by two people. Booker said he was dragged toward a tree and pinned against it as the men yelled multiple times, “Get a noose.”
Footage shows Booker on his knees by a tree surrounded by a group of people. He suffered a minor concussion, scrapes and bruises.
Booker said after he was charged in connection with the attack, “There’s nothing more American than charging a Black man in his own attempted lynching.”
He can now either request that the court review the decision to deny him a public defender, hire his own attorney or represent himself.
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