Cook County prosecutors on Thursday filed hate-crime charges against four African-American defendants accused of holding a white mentally disabled man captive, torturing him for hours and posting videos of acts that police Supt. Eddie Johnson called “reprehensible” and the White House condemned.
Jordan Hill, 18, of Carpentersville, and Tesfaye Cooper, 18, Brittany Covington, 18, and Tanishia Covington, 24, all of Chicago, are expected to appear in bond court Friday, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office.
They face charges of aggravated kidnapping, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. Hill is also charged with robbery, residential burglary and possession of a stolen motor vehicle. In addition, Cooper and Brittany Covington are charged with residential burglary.
They allegedly tortured the 18-year-old victim for about six hours in an apartment where the Covington sisters live on the West Side, police said. The defendants are accused of putting videos of the torture on Facebook. They’re seen forcing the victim to drink toilet water, cutting the victim with a knife, and forcing him to say “I love black people,” authorities say. Someone in the apartment also said, “F— Trump” and “F— white people.”
“The actions in that video are reprehensible,” Johnson said in a news conference Thursday, adding that racism doesn’t have a place in Chicago “or anywhere else, for that matter.”
“There was never a question whether or not this incident qualified to be investigated as a hate crime, but, as I said yesterday, we need to base the investigation on facts and not emotion,” he said.
Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, said the videos “demonstrate a level of depravity that is an outrage to a lot of Americans.”
“We don’t benefit from pretending that racism doesn’t exist.”
In an interview with CBS2 Chicago, the president called it “despicable.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel also weighed in, saying, “Anyone who has seen it [finds the videos] both sickening and sickened by it.”
“There’s more to our city than that and I see it every day. Obviously with the success of these [tourism] numbers — 54 million [visitors in 2016] — so do other people.”
Gov. Bruce Rauner also said in the statement that he and his wife Diana were “deeply saddened and disturbed by the horrific violence” seen in the video.
Area North Detectives Cmdr. Kevin Duffin said several factors led to the decision to seek hate-crime charges: “His diminished mental capacity, the fact that they tied him up, the obvious racial quotes that they posted live on Facebook. Taking the totality of the circumstances, the state’s attorney agreed with us.”
Hill and the victim knew each other from a school they attended in west suburban Aurora, Duffin said.
The victim lived with his parents in northwest suburban Crystal Lake. His parents dropped him off at a McDonald’s in northwest suburban Streamwood on New Year’s Eve. The victim intended to spend the night with Hill, Duffin said.
Hill picked up the victim in a van that Hill stole in Streamwood and they drove around visiting friends for about three days, Duffin said. The victim slept in the van.
On Tuesday, the victim got into a “play fight” with Hill in the Covington sisters’ apartment in the 3300 block of West Lexington on the West Side of Chicago, Duffin said. The defendants wound up binding the victim and torturing him in a corner of the apartment, the commander said.
A woman who lives in the building warned the Covington sisters that she would call the police about the noise coming from their apartment. The sisters then kicked in the woman’s door in anger and took some of her property, police said.
Officers responded and arrested the sisters on burglary charges at about 5:15 p.m., Duffin said.
That allowed the victim to escape.
About 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Officer Michael Donnelly spotted the victim wearing shorts, sandals and a tank top turned inside out despite the day’s frigid temperatures. He also was bloodied and looked as though he’d been attacked. The victim was walking about a block away from the Covington sisters’ apartment.
“After talking to him, he [seemed] discombobulated. He was injured, he was confused,” Donnelly said.
Donnelly called an ambulance and the victim was taken to a hospital.
Shortly afterward, Donnelly learned the victim was missing from Streamwood.
Streamwood police officials say the victim’s parents had made a missing-persons report after their son didn’t return home.
His parents were concerned that he wasn’t taking medication that he needed, police said.
As of Thursday, he was released from the hospital and was with his family. “He’s doing well — as well as he could be at this time,” the victim’s brother in law, David Boyd, said at a press conference.
During the Streamwood police investigation, the victim’s parents started “receiving text messages from persons claiming to be holding him captive,” officials said.
In one of the videos the defendants allegedly posted on Facebook, a man threatened the victim with a knife. Someone told the victim, “kiss the floor, b—-!” and “nobody can help you anymore.” At one point, someone told the victim, “say ‘I love black people.’ ”
Of the four defendants, only Tanishia Covington has an adult criminal record, according to court records.
She was convicted of shoplifting in 2005 and received court supervision. In 2009, she was charged with assault, in 2012 she was charged with battery and in 2014 she was charged with domestic battery and endangering a life, but those cases were dismissed.
Tanishia Covington pleaded guilty in April 2016 to failing to appear at a hearing on a charge of criminal trespass to state land — and received probation, records show.
Brittany Covington was charged with shoplifting in October, but that case was dismissed.
Hill and Cooper don’t appear to have adult criminal records.
On Wednesday, community activist Andrew Holmes had said of the incident: “In so many ways this was a hate crime because of what they said to him — saying he’s with Trump. When you make a person say, ‘I love black people,’ that’s a hate crime all the way.”
Holmes said he hopes the video doesn’t provoke a racial backlash in Chicago.
“Let the chips fall where they may, and let the judicial system work,” he said.
In November, the day after the election, an online video showed a man being attacked in the North Lawndale neighborhood on the West Side, while bystanders taunted him, saying he had voted for Donald Trump.
Eventually, four people were charged in connection with that attack.
Contributing: Lynn Sweet, Fran Spielman and Tina Sfondeles