Monroe County prosecuting attorney Erika Oliphant issued arrest warrants for Sean M. Purdy and Jerry Edward Cox II on Friday after the Department of Natural Resources report was released Thursday about the Fourth of July encounter between Vauhxx Booker and several people at Lake Monroe.
Purdy, who held Booker against a tree in the videos of the encounter, was charged with three felonies: criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury and intimidation.
Cox, who yelled a racial slur in one of the videos of the encounter, was charged with two felonies and three misdemeanors: aiding, inducing or causing criminal confinement, battery resulting in moderate bodily injury, intimidation and two counts of battery.
Booker announced July 5 that he was a victim of an attempted lynching in a lengthy Facebook post, detailing the story of his alleged attack at Lake Monroe. Since then, his story has gained national attention, and the FBI opened an investigation into the case last week. The defense attorney of Sean Purdy and his girlfriend Caroline McCord spoke Tuesday, denying that Booker was telling the true story.
In the DNR report’s list of potential charges, Booker was listed for two potential charges of battery and one potential charge of trespassing. Oliphant did not decide to issue a warrant for Booker’s arrest.
The DNR report contains details from interviews with 18 individuals, some of whom were interviewed more than once. These interviewees include people who were at the same event as Booker and people who were gathering on the McCord family’s property. Many of the stories have conflicting narratives.
According to the report, Purdy and McCord were on McCord’s father’s property for a gathering with friends and family on the Fourth of July. Booker was going to an event past the McCord’s property for a lunar eclipse viewing and cut through the private property with a friend because they thought the organizer of the event, Max Walsh, had talked to the owners.
Purdy and McCord had apparently been having issues with people coming through McCord’s property, and when Booker and his friend walked through the property, Purdy stopped them and told them they were on private property. According to Purdy’s interview and a DNR officer’s interview with Booker on the night of July 4, Purdy then gave Booker and his friend a ride to the property line in his ATV and showed them where to go to get to their site.
Booker and Purdy both mentioned Booker’s dislike of Purdy’s cowboy hat with a Confederate flag on it in their interviews, but there were no hostile exchanges at that point.
Walsh, the organizer of the eclipse event, noted in his interview that the McCords’ property had been treated like public property for decades. Jared Cox, son of Jerry Cox, said they were trying to keep trespassers away to prevent people from getting hurt on the property and McCord’s dad having to deal with repercussions. Jared Cox said the McCords have the “Zoom Flume,” an abandoned water park, on the property, which makes trespassers a common problem.
Steven Cox, another eclipse viewing attendee, took a different route to the event site to avoid Purdy’s party, who he heard was stopping people who were crossing the property. He ran into the group on the beach where he was walking and, according to Cox’s interview, Purdy reluctantly let him pass. He said a man screamed “white power” during this encounter, but it was not Purdy. Cox then proceeded to the event site and told Booker, Walsh and others about what had happened.
Booker, who is a Monroe County human rights commissioner, decided he wanted to go and talk to them in an attempt to educate them on why their actions were hurtful to people of color. Several people asked Booker not to go, advising that it was too dangerous. But Booker was set on going, and he and a friend set off to talk to Purdy’s group.
What came next is unclear, and the DNR report includes multiple conflicting stories from interviewees. Several adults in Purdy’s party admitted they were intoxicated in interviews, and DNR officers also observed intoxication in the adults when they arrived later.
The interviews with individuals from Purdy’s group all have slightly different versions of what happened, but most generally agree that Booker came up to the boat where several people were and said he was a county commissioner and he heard they were saying racist things. Several people told Booker that nobody had said anything racist. In a few interviews, people said Booker stated he could fine them, and McCord asked him to leave.
“Ms. McCord stated that she felt intimidated and threatened,” the report reads. “Ms. McCord told Mr. Booker that he was threatening her, and encouraged him to go ahead and charge them fines and leave. [McCord’s daughter] more specifically stated Mr. Booker kept saying he was going to ‘slap so many fines.’”
McCord and her daughter, who was not named in the report because she is a juvenile, said the other man with Booker was not involved with the conversation.
McCord, her daughter and Purdy said Booker then got in McCord’s face, and Purdy got between them and pushed him away. Booker then allegedly punched Purdy. McCord, her daughter and Purdy’s daughter, who is also a juvenile, say Booker punched Purdy three times. Purdy told investigators he only remembers one punch that sent him to the ground and said his memory got foggy after that.
Investigators said in the report that Purdy had a large bruise under his chin when he came in for an interview and a bruise on his right arm.
Purdy’s daughter said Jerry Cox, Purdy’s friend and employee, then wrestled Booker to the ground, and Purdy pinned him to a tree. Jerry Cox, unrelated to Steven Cox, said in his interview that Purdy already had Booker against a tree when he came up the hill from the beach. He said Booker punched him after they released him from the tree, and he punched Booker back two times. McCord said Booker punched Jerry Cox before they pinned him to the tree, and she and her daughter did not think Jerry Cox hit him back. Investigators said Jerry Cox had a noticeable black eye, and DNR officers said he had redness under one eye and a cut on his forehead on the night of the encounter.
Ian Watkins, Booker’s friend who was with him, and Booker told a different story.
Watkins, in an interview with investigators, and Booker, in his Facebook post, said they approached the boat to talk to the group. Watkins said he was six feet away and couldn’t hear what Booker was saying, but he didn’t hear Booker raise his voice. Others in Purdy’s party concur with this initial interaction being civil.
Watkins said he thought Booker was getting the impression the dialogue wasn’t going anywhere when people in Purdy’s party started looking visibly annoyed, and Booker turned and walked away. Watkins said Purdy then jumped out of the boat and shoved Booker from behind.
He said Booker turned around, and Purdy punched him in the face, which he thinks knocked Booker to the ground. He said four other men ran up, and they all pinned Booker to a tree and punched and kicked him. This is consistent with Booker’s account on Facebook.
Watkins said he tried to get one of the men off Booker and was punched in the face by Jerry Cox, who told him to leave or he’d get beat up too.
Walsh, Steven Cox and another eclipse viewing attendee Brennan Golightly then arrived on the scene after walking over to see what was happening. They decided to walk over after Booker and Watkins were gone for a bit and then started running when they heard screams.
Upon arrival, one of them thought they heard the N-word, two said they heard the people call Booker “boy” and two of them heard someone say get a rope and then someone say “get a noose.” When Booker originally called 911 and recounted what happened after the encounter, he did not mention hearing “get a noose,” but after one of the other men mentioned it to DNR officers, he said he heard it too and had forgotten.
Everyone in Purdy’s party said in interviews they did not hear anyone say anything about a noose or say anything about a noose.
“Ms. McCord said that while Sean held Mr. Booker, someone requested they call the Police,” the interview reads. “Ms. McCord was adamant that Sean was holding Mr. Booker, until the police could come.”
Purdy was the only one pinning Booker to the tree, according to multiple interviews, and eventually released him after many people in Purdy’s own party yelled at him to release Booker. Booker’s party then left, but both parties continued talking to each other as they walked away.
Jerry Cox was videotaped yelling a racial slur at Booker. Booker responded, “What do you really want to call me?” and Cox repeated the same racial slur.
There is also video evidence of Booker and McCord talking as they walked toward the property line.
Here is an excerpt of the dialogue as it appears in the DNR report:
Booker: "I don't want you to feel intimidated is what I am saying."
McCord: "I'm not at all."
Booker: "Yeah, nobody is going to do anything to you."
McCord: "Hey, hey stop it. You guys really played with that. What the fuck? Why were you guys provoking that? What the fuck were you thinking?"
Booker: "I just talked to you guys."
McCord: "No you didn't just talk to us you totally, you accused me and you threatened me you didn't just talk. No you didn't that's so bull shit, you threatened me you know that."
Booker: "I asked if you yelled racial slurs you guys."
McCord: "You told, nobody did and I said no and you totally threatened me and you said I am going to slap all kinds of shit on you."
Booker called 911 once they were back at the campsite. DNR officers responded, talked to both parties, did not see evidence of serious injuries or physical evidence and consulted with the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office twice as new information was given to them. Both times, the prosecutor advised them to collect information, submit a report and determine later if there were crimes committed.
In the DNR officers’ reports of the night of the encounter, Booker was reluctant to let them look at his body and under his hat for injuries. The officers did not find any visible injuries upon inspection. Walsh said in his interview Booker had “a considerable amount of swelling and bruising, it's hard to see on a black person.”
Booker went to the hospital the next day where he was diagnosed with a minor concussion, abrasions, bruises and some ripped out hair patches.
A DNR investigator later determined the tree Booker was pinned to was on public property.
Booker’s attorney denied two DNR requests to interview Booker during the course of the investigation.