Torture on Facebook Live: 4 charged with hate crime in attack on Chicago man with special needs

Posted at 1:56 PM, Jan 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-05 14:37:34-05

CHICAGO — Charges have been filed against four black suspects in the beating of a white man with “mental health challenges” that was streamed live on Facebook, officials said Thursday.

Jordan Hill, 18, Tesfaye Cooper, 18, Brittany Covington, 18, and Tanishia Covinton, 24, all face hate crime and aggravated kidnapping charges in addition to other related charges, PIX11 sister station WGN reports.

The attack was streamed on Facebook Live.

In the video, a young man cowers in the corner of a room, tied up with his mouth bound in plastic. His eyes exude fear as his attackers get ready for their next act.

One assailant slashes his sweatshirt with a knife. A young woman streaming the abuse on Facebook Live turns the camera back to herself.

Four suspects charged with a hate crime and other counts in the torture of a Chicago man with special needs. The attack was streamed live on Facebook. (Chicago Police Department)

Four suspects charged with a hate crime and other counts in the torture of a Chicago man with special needs. The attack was streamed live on Facebook. (Chicago Police Department)

One of the men shouts: “*F-ck Donald Trump! F-ck white people!”

An attacker then takes a knife to the victim’s head, carving a patch off his scalp.

For the next 25 minutes, the abuse continued for the world to see. The victim, an 18-year-old in suburban Chicago with special needs, was repeatedly kicked and punched. And the video has launched a social media firestorm about whether it was a hate crime.

Many who saw the video have blamed the Black Lives Matter movement. But on Thursday, police said they have not been able to make any connection to the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports circulating on social media.

What constitutes a hate crime?

“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,” the city of Chicago’s website states.

“Hate crimes not only harm the victim, but also the group in which the targeted member belongs.”

And according to Illinois law, hate can be considered an aggravating factor in a criminal charge and can result in a more severe sentence.

The assailants made a wide array of statements in the video, including repeated references to Donald Trump, white people in general, the victim’s appearance and the Black Lives Matter movement.

It didn’t take long for the hashtag #BLMKidnapping to gain steam on Twitter.

But former Chicago police officer Dimitri Roberts slammed the notion that the Black Lives Matter movement is to blame.

“This is hate. And hate doesn’t have a color,” Roberts said. “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.”

It’s possible the racially charged statements were little more than people “ranting about something they think might make a headline,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.

He said he did not believe the attack was politically motivated, but called it “sickening.”

How the encounter started

The victim’s parents reported him missing Monday, telling police they had not heard from their son since dropping him off Saturday at a McDonald’s in the Chicago suburb of Streamwood.

The victim knew at least one of his accused attackers from school, Duffin said. Though he may have voluntarily gotten into a van with the group, police are considering kidnapping charges.

Police in Streamwood said that after the man was reported missing, his parents began getting text messages from someone “claiming to be holding him captive.”

Officers investigating the texts “discovered a Facebook video depicting (the man) being verbally and physically abused.” It’s unclear what alerted the police to check Facebook.

Soon after they discovered the video, Streamwood investigators said they were contacted by Chicago police, saying they had found the missing man.

On Tuesday, Chicago officers responded to a battery call at a home in the area where the victim had been found. There were signs of a struggle and property damage, police said. Police have not identified the person who made the call.

After viewing the Facebook video, they determined the victim was the man found on the street — and the people arrested were involved, police said.

Police said the victim might have been with the suspects for at least 24 hours.

Video pulled from Facebook

Facebook said it pulled the original video from the suspect’s Facebook profile.

“We do not allow people to celebrate or glorify crimes on Facebook and have removed the original video for this reason. In many instances, though, when people share this type of content, they are doing so to condemn violence or raise awareness about it. In that case, the video would be allowed,” a spokesperson for the social media platform said.

According to its community standards, the company removes content, disables accounts and works with law enforcement in cases of a genuine risk of physical harm or direct threats to public safety.

Facebook users also can report offensive material to staff dedicated to responding to such reports. If a live stream starts blowing up, staffers monitor it for possible violations and interrupt it if needed.

Reporting from CNN and the Associated Press comprises this article.