The FBI confirmed to TPM Tuesday that it has opened an investigation into the alleged attack on Vauhxx Rush Booker just outside Bloomington, Indiana on July 4. Booker described the alleged assault as an “attempted lynching.”
“The FBI is investigating,” said Chris Bavender, a spokesperson for the FBI’s Indianapolis Field Office. “We have no further comment.”
Booker’s lawyer, Bloomington lawyer Katharine Liell, announced the investigation on Facebook and during a press conference Tuesday evening.
“We welcome this inquiry and feel we are one step closer to justice,” she wrote.
The local Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Law Enforcement Division has also been conducting an investigation, after its officers responded to Booker’s 9-1-1 calls. The DNR’s Capt. Jet Quillen told TPM that when the department finishes its investigation and interviews, it will hand a report over to the Monroe County Prosecutor’s Office, which will decide whether or not to press charges.
Booker took issue with the DNR’s response in a Facebook account of his experience. In his post, he said that the officers spoke with his alleged assailants before checking to see if he was hurt. He said that they made no arrests on the scene despite video footage of the tail end of the attack.
Neither the DNR nor the county prosecutor confirmed that part of Booker’s account to TPM.
Liell said on Facebook that the county prosecutor has spoken with the DNR officers.
Quillen said that the officers responded to Booker’s call about a battery at about 8 p.m. on the Fourth. By that point, Booker wrote on Facebook, he had been beaten, slammed into a tree, jumped on and had his hair pulled out.
Booker said that the trouble started when he and his friends headed to Lake Monroe, 12 miles outside of Bloomington, to watch a lunar eclipse.
They ran into an aggressive man wearing a Confederate flag hat and his ATV-riding friends, Booker said, who repeatedly warned them to get off of private property. A spokesperson from Bloomington Mayor John Hamilton’s office told TPM that it’s not clear whether the episode happened on public or private property.
Booker said that they tried to accommodate the group, one of whom yelled “white power” when they tried to access the lake by way of the public beach. When Booker went to engage the men in conversation, he wrote, he was attacked.
He said that his assailants grew “more enraged” as the beating continued, but that a woman started screaming at one of the men to let Booker go, which attracted a small crowd of witnesses.
“The attackers told the growing group, ‘we’re going to break his arms’ (while literally attempting to bend my arms behind me) and then stated to the members of their party several times to, ‘get a noose’, amongst some other choice slurs,” Booker wrote. “With me still pinned underneath them they kept telling onlookers to leave the ‘boy’ and that everyone else (all white) could go.”
At that point, a bystander started recording video of the confrontation. A group, mostly wearing bathing suits and some clutching beer cans, can be seen crowded around Booker, who is slumped on the ground.
One woman is yelling at the group to let him go, while a man jabs a finger at the camera-holding bystander, telling him to leave. A woman next to him adds: “You go, and we’ll let him go.”
The rest of the videos capture the scene after Booker has been released. One of the men who was holding Booker, shirtless and wearing swim trunks, repeatedly calls the witnesses “liberal fucks” and says that “big Black was what started all this.”
He displays aggression in particular towards one bystander who is Black, at one point yelling “You’re a nappy-headed bitch with your five white friends.”
Booker’s Facebook post took off, sparking protests in Bloomington Monday night. The peaceful demonstrations ended violently, when a red car plowed into the crowd, leaving at least one woman hospitalized, according to local reports.
On Tuesday, Booker’s attorney expressed her gratitude for the FBI’s intervention.
“I can tell you as a criminal lawyer of over 30 years, I never thought I would say, ‘Boy am I glad the FBI are coming,’ but we are,” she said at the press conference. “We want this investigated as a hate crime. It was clearly racially motivated.”