Four suspects accused of torturing a mentally disabled teen on Facebook Live video were charged with hate crimes Thursday — but police insisted that the white 18-year-old was targeted for his special needs, not his race.
The suspects — Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper, Brittany Covington, all 18, and 24-year-old Tanishia Covington — were also charged with kidnapping and battery, police said.
President Barack Obama Thursday called the video “despicable” and suggested that it was a hate crime.
“What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time,” the President said in an interview with WBBM-TV.
“Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook.”
Earlier, police said the victim and his parents thought he was only sleeping over with some friends.
Chicago Police Commander Kevin Duffin said at a Thursday press conference that the victim voluntarily hung out with Jordan Hill — who he knew from school — after his parents dropped him off at a Streamwood McDonald’s on Saturday. Hill then picked up the victim from the restaurant in a stolen van he was driving in. The pair drove around the city for a couple of days until they ended up at a Chicago home.
Meanwhile, the victim’s parents reported their son missing on Monday. They later received text messages from people who claimed they had their son hostage, police said.
The victim slept inside the vehicle Tuesday and several hours later, the suspects — including the two Covington sisters — started assaulting and binding him up, Duffin said.
Police believe the victim was tied up in a corner for “about four or five hours.”
“He (the victim) is able to escape when a downstairs neighbor calls the police complaining of all the noise upstairs,” he said.
The motive behind the assault resulted from the victim getting into a play fight with Hill, Duffin said.
“They (suspects) then got aggravated at him and that’s when the mental capacity starts coming out,” he said of the many reasons the suspects were charged with a hate crime.
The four are accused of holding the teen captive for up to 48 hours, threatening him with a knife and forcing him to drink from a toilet, all while they recorded the brutal attack on Facebook Live.
Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said earlier Thursday that while the suspects, all of whom are black, made “terrible racist statements” against white people during the on-camera torture session, it does not appear to be racially motivated.
In the footage, one of the four suspects screamed, “F–k white people!” and “F–k Donald Trump!” A second video, released Thursday, showed the attackers forcing the teen’s head down inside a toilet bowl, making him drink the water inside.
Guglielmi said the unidentified 18-year-old victim — who is from Chicago’s Crystal Lake suburb and attended school with at least one of the suspects — was targeted because he has mental disabilities. He did not provide further details about the teen’s special needs.
It’s possible the suspects were trying to extort something from the victim’s family, Guglielmi said.
The teen, who was found wandering Chicago in distress Tuesday, initially went willingly with his classmate and the three other suspects into a Chicago-area home. It’s not clear which of the suspects attends school with the teen.
Chicago police took the victim to a hospital for treatment for unspecified injuries and after they found him Tuesday in the city’s Homan Square neighborhood. Officers soon discovered he had been reported missing from his suburban home, and while investigating the case, they found the online videos.
The clips — posted to and later deleted from Facebook — showed four people brutally attacking the teen.
In one video, the victim is seen crying with what appears to be tape covering his mouth. His clothes had been ripped, and the attackers repeatedly threatened him with a knife, police said. A second video showed at least one of the attackers hovering over the teen, who kneeled over a toilet. The suspect then grabbed the boy’s head and submerged it into the bowl.
The clips prompted social media users and notable Republicans alike to label the attack a hate crime, even though police have not yet determined if it is.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich suggested that there was a double standard at play.
“If this had been done to an African-American by four whites, every liberal in the country would be outraged and there would be no question that it is a hate crime,” he said on “Fox & Friends” Thursday.
He continued: “We are right at the edge of a terrible period — which I know President-elect Donald Trump wants to avoid — of having a deep bitter division in the communities in a way that makes America very hard to govern.”
White supremacist Richard Spencer claimed the suspects are Black Lives Matters supporters — which cops have not verified — and called them terrorists.
“This isn’t even the first instance of terrorism against whites by anti-Trump #blacklivesmatter supporters in Chicago,” he tweeted. “Remember the #blmkidnapping every time some journalist lies about my white advocacy organization and calls it a hate group.”
All four suspects are expected to appear in court Friday. Each facing 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 were charged with residential burglary.
With News Wire Services