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6 Jan, 2017 00:40

Chicago torture video suspects charged with hate crimes after police say beating not about race

Four black suspects are being charged with kidnapping, assault and hate crimes for holding a white man with special needs hostage and torturing him for hours, police in Illinois said. It is unclear if he was targeted for being white or for his disability.

The four suspects were taken into custody on Wednesday after the 28-minute video was livestreamed on Tuesday. Jordan Hill, 18; Tesfaye Cooper, 18; Brittany Covington, 18; and Tanishia Covington, 24, face charges of aggravated kidnapping, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Hill has also been charged with robbery, residential burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle, while Cooper and Brittany Covington face charges of residential burglary.

The parents of the 18-year-old victim dropped him off at a McDonald’s in the Chicago suburbs on New Year’s Eve, where he was to meet up with Hill, an acquaintance from school; they were supposed to spend the night together, Chicago Area North Detectives Commander Kevin Duffin said during a press conference. Hill picked up the victim in a stolen car, unbeknownst to the teen. The two spent at least two days together before going to the Chicago home of sisters Brittany and Tanishia Covington on Tuesday.

The victim’s parents reported their son who “has mental health challenges” as missing late Monday night, police in the suburb of Streamwood said. Around the same time they reported him missing, his parents began receiving texts from someone “claiming to be holding him captive.” By Tuesday, the video of the white man being tortured was being livestreamed.

Though the attack began with a play fight between the victim and Hill, it quickly escalated. The four suspects repeatedly refer to the victim as a Donald Trump supporter in the live video, which has since been taken down from both Facebook and YouTube. The attackers cut and repeatedly hit the victim, and can be heard shouting "F*** Donald Trump! F*** white people!," "beat his ass," and "he gonna be a corpse." They also forced him to say “F*** Trump,” “I love black people,” and kiss the floor. The victim was tied up in a corner, and left there for “about four to five hours,” Duffin said. The group also “made him drink toilet water.”

At some point, a downstairs neighbor came up to the Covingtons’ apartment to complain about the noise, and threatened to call the cops. This enraged the sisters, Duffin said, who had been seen in the video “smoking cigars that we presume to be blunts.” They then went downstairs, “booted in” the neighbor’s door and “took something on the way out.” The distraction allowed the victim to escape.

Several officers responded to the call of “criminal damage to property,” including Officer Michael Donnelly, who saw the victim walking with Hill near the Covingtons’ apartment.

He was “wearing a tank top inside out, backwards; jean shorts; and sandals. He was bloodied, he was battered, and due to the cold weather conditions, I approached him for a field interview,” Donnelly told reporters. “He didn’t seem like he was… He was very discombobulated, he was injured, he was confused,” prompting the officer to call for an ambulance.

Meanwhile, at the apartment, officers “discovered signs of a struggle and damage to the property and [were] able to link this evidence to the disoriented male,” the Chicago Police Department said in a Facebook post. It was after finding the victim and the location of his abuse that they found out about the Facebook Live. Police believe the crimes against him took place over the course of six hours on Tuesday, based on statements by the victim and the four suspects.

Although the suspects clearly expressed racial epithets in the video, police initially refused to classify the incident as a hate crime, leading to a backlash on social media. #BLMKidnapping trended on Twitter between the police press conference on Wednesday and the announcement of charges on Thursday.

"This is hate. And hate doesn't have a color," former Chicago PD Officer Dimitri Roberts told CNN. "So for folks to talk about this is somehow connected to Black Lives Matter is absolutely the wrong way to look at this... And we cannot respond to hate with hate. It's just going to perpetuate the cycle."

Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson noted, however, that the lack of a classification for the “deplorable acts” committed in the video was to allow the investigation to be “based on facts and not emotion.”

“There was never a question whether or not this incident qualified to be investigated as a hate crime. But as I said yesterday, we needed to base, the investigation based on facts and not emotion,” he said before announcing the charges against the four suspects.

“Taking the totality of the circumstances… we sought hate crime charges,” Duffin noted, adding that the investigators didn’t differentiate between the victim’s “diminished mental capabilities” and the racial aspects of the crime.

Of the four suspects, only Tanishia Covington has an adult criminal record, the Chicago Sun Times reported, citing court records. In 2005, she was convicted of shoplifting and received court supervision. Four years later, she was charged with assault, but the case was dismissed. Charges of battery in 2012 and domestic battery and endangering a life in 2014 were also dropped. Her sister Brittany was arrested for shoplifting in October, but those charges were dismissed.

The victim is recovering with his parents, police said.