Teenagers Jordan Hill and Tesfaye Cooper are accused of being part of a group of Chicagoans who tortured and harassed a special needs man on Facebook Live.
“The actions in that video are reprehensible,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said in a Thursday news conference announcing the charges, which included hate crime offenses.
Charges were announced Thursday against Hill and Cooper, both 18, and two sisters, Brittany Herring (Covington) and Tanishia Covington in connection with the horrific videos, which have gone viral and been viewed by many thousands of people. Of the four, Hill is allegedly the closest to the special needs victim who was attacked on the videos that went viral.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said the suspects are charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated unlawful restraint, aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and residential burglary. They are all also charged with hate crime, a charge police had initially hesitated on committing to Wednesday night. Police had drawn criticism on social media for refusing to outright label the crime as a hate crime during their initial news conference, but they were talking a tough tune on Thursday.
The most serious charge, aggravated kidnapping, carries a potential prison sentence of 30 years, with a minimum sentence of six years.
Hill is from Carpentersville, Illinois, while Cooper and the Covingtons are from Chicago. Brittany Herring (Covington) had initially streamed the video onto her Facebook page.
The group allegedly forced the victim to say “f-ck Donald Trump” and accused him of being a Trump supporter while punching him, cutting his hair, and forcing him to drink from a toilet. Some of the suspects also made disparaging comments about white people.
The suspects are black, and the victim is white.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Hill’s Grandmother Told the News Media He Had ‘Drug Problems’
Hill’s grandmother, Michelle Ludington of Streamwood, Illinois, told the Daily Herald “she was surprised to hear about what her grandson is accused of doing. Hill had lived with Ludington while attending school nearby, and the victim occasionally came over to hang out.”
The newspaper said that Hill had stopped living with his grandmother, who told the Daily Herald that Hill allegedly “had drug problems.” She told the newspaper: “I tried to get help for him a long time ago.”
Police had unraveled the horrific saga when they found the victim wandering around.
Police said in a statement that “patrol officers observed a disoriented male walking (along) 3400 W. Lexington on January 3, 2017 who was then transported to an area hospital for treatment.”
At 5:26 p.m., officers then responded to a battery report at a residence on the 3300 block of W. Lexington “where they discovered signs of a struggle and damage to the property and (were) able to link this evidence to the disoriented male,” the police statement said.
This led police to Facebook.
Officers later “became aware of a social media video depicting a battery of an adult male which is believed to be the same individual. At this point CPD believes the video is credible and detectives are questioning persons of interest in the case,” the police statement said.
Chicago police said the victim, whom police believe is from a neighboring suburb, “was transported to an area hospital in stable condition. The investigation is ongoing.”
Captain Steven Sesso, who is the commanding officer of the 11th District, said “alert 11th District officers encountered” the victim and added that it “didn’t feel right, the situation. They saw clearly this individual was in distress, that he was in crisis. And they cared enough to do something about it.”
Police have said the victim “was missing from Crystal Lake,” the Chicago Tribune reported.
2. The Viral Videos Show the Man Being Tortured & He Knew Hill Previously, Police Say
In the first Facebook Live video, which is very lengthy, you see the man gagged, and some of the suspects cut his sweatshirt sleeves with knives as music plays in the background.
The video was first streamed live on the Facebook page of the young woman named Brittany Herring (Covington), who laughs during the video as another suspect says such things as “F-ck Donald Trump. F-ck white people, boy.” He is seen being kicked and punched.
They cut off pieces of the victim’s hair and order him to stand up, while the woman streaming the video calls him a “b-tch as- white thug.” At one point, she says that her little sister “said it’s not funny,” but she added, “This sh-t is hilarious.”
In a second video, the suspects force the victim to drink from a toilet and to say “f-ck Donald Trump.”
The New York Daily News reported that, according to police, the victim knew Hill through school and initially “voluntarily” hung out with him after his parents dropped him off at a McDonalds.
3. Hill Allegedly Had a Stolen Van & the Suspects Allegedly Sent the Family of the Victim Text Messages
That account came from police, who said the “suspects had been sending the victim’s parents text messages while holding him hostage,” according to NBC 5.
“This is going to affect him for probably the rest of his life,” the grandmother of the victim told the television station.
Hill allegedly showed up at the McDonalds where the victim’s parents had left him in a stolen van. They drove around the city for several days, crashing with friends before ending up at the apartment where the attack happened, and, eventually, the victim’s parents reported him as a missing person, the Daily News reported.
Hill is also facing charges of robbery and possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
The victim escaped the house of horrors when a neighbor complained about the noise. The complaint distracted the suspects, some of whom went to deal with the neighbor, providing the victim his chance to get out, The Chicago Tribune reported.
An officer found the man “bloodied” and “battered.” The neighbor then called police, The Tribune said, after two suspects allegedly kicked her door in.
4. Police Had Initially Hedged on the Hate Crime Charges
Before socking the teenagers with hate crime charges, police had given a variety of statements that some felt downplayed the seriousness of the incident.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson referred to the incident as “stupidity” and a police commander, Kevin Duffin, had called it the result of stupid decisions. The Chicago police spokesman had said that police believed the victim was targeted because he was a special needs person, not because of his race, even though some suspects referred to white people in derogatory fashion in the videos.
Chicago hate crime laws do not only limit hate crimes to race, though. And police were talking a tough tune on Thursday, with Johnson referring to the crime as “reprehensible.”
The City of Chicago website contains a detailed section defining hate crimes. It reads, “Hate crimes are acts of bigotry, and are committed because of the intended victim’s actual or perceived ancestry, color, creed, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability (including HIV status), or national origin. Hate crimes not only harm the victim, but also the group in which the targeted member belongs.”
The site continues, “Hate crimes can only be charged when another crime such as battery, assault, aggravated assault, criminal damage to property, criminal trespass to vehicle or to real property, mob action, looting, disorderly conduct or harassment by telephone occurs and a specific hate motive is established. Hate Crime is a Class 4 felony. If a convicted hate crime offender receives a probationary sentence, the court may also impose community service hours.”
The website – which urges victims of hate crimes to contact Chicago police – adds: “According to Illinois law, hate can be considered an aggravating factor and ‘accorded weight in favor of imposing a term of imprisonment or may be considered by the court as reason to impose a more severe sentence.’”
5. Some Suspects Have Prior Arrest Histories but Others Have Minimal Paper Trails
Police alleged in a Thursday news conference that the two sisters under arrest were instrumental in tying up the victim after they became angry because the victim was play fighting with Hill. The entire episode then escalated, and it took about four to five hours, police contended.
Tanishia Covington is a young mother who has indicated support for members of a local gang that is involved in rap music culture on Facebook. Both sisters have had prior arrests for petty crimes, according to a Chicago police arrest database. Tanishia Covington had been caught previously in a stolen vehicle. The Chicago Tribune reported that she was also accused in 2014 of domestic battery and endangering a child “for slapping a woman twice in the face as the woman held a 10-month-old infant.” Brittany was accused of stealing liquor, but the case was dismissed, the Tribune reported.
Tesfaye Cooper has basically no record trail, at least not under his birth name. His name doesn’t come up in data mining sites or on Facebook, and there is no arrest history under his name in the Chicago police database. There is a 37-year-old Chicago man with the same name who has a lengthy arrest history in the database. No arrest history comes up for Jordan Hill in the arrest database. However, the database only allows searches for adult arrest histories, not potential juveniles records, and all of the suspects are only recently adults.
You can read more about Tanishia Covington here:
Read more about this video in Spanish at AhoraMismo.com: