One day after a chilling live Facebook video made headlines, four suspects appeared in a packed Cook County courtroom Friday to face hate crime charges alleging they beat and tortured a mentally disabled teen in an attack that once again put the city’s ugly violence problem on display.
A media throng descended on the Leighton Criminal Court Building for the first appearance by Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper and sisters Tanishia and Brittany Covington since the brutal images captivated and alarmed a world audience.
Dressed in street clothes, the four entered bond court amid heavy security, Cooper smirking as he walked to stand before the judge. As Assistant State’s Attorney Erin Antionetti detailed the charges, a friend of the victim’s family seated in the courtroom gallery nodded her head and wiped tears from her eyes.
A short time later, Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil ordered the four held without bail, citing the egregiousness of the allegations.
The judge addressed each defendant individually, noting that Brittany Covington was going to college, her sister was a parent, Cooper had a paralyzed brother and Hill lived with his mother.
“I’m looking at each of you and wondering where was the sense of decency that each of you should have had?” Ciesil said. “I don’t see it.”
On hearing the no-bail ruling, the friend of the victim’s family clapped and loudly said, “Yes!”
A short time later, Priscilla Covington, a grandmother of the two sisters charged in the attack, hustled past reporters outside the courthouse, apologizing for the women’s actions.
“I didn’t raise them like that,” she said.
The racially charged video shows the four — who are all African-American — cutting the white victim’s scalp with a knife, punching and kicking him and laughing as they repeatedly forced his head into a toilet in an apartment on Chicago’s West Side.
For the first time, authorities alleged that Hill, who knew the 18-year-old victim from attending the same alternative school in Aurora, first beat the victim in the back of a van after he became angry that the teen’s mother was contacting him by Facebook about her son’s whereabouts. Prosecutors said Hill demanded $300 from the victim’s mother if she wanted her son back.
It wasn’t until later that the live Facebook video captured the abuse in the sisters’ apartment in the 3300 block of West Lexington Street.
Hill, 18, of Carpentersville; Cooper, 18, of Chicago; and Brittany Covington, 18, and sister Tanishia, 24, were each charged with aggravated kidnapping, hate crime, aggravated unlawful restraint and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, according to prosecutors. Hill also was charged with robbery, possession of a stolen motor vehicle and residential burglary, while both Covingtons were charged with residential burglary, they said.
Prosecutors revealed in court that the 18-year-old victim, who lives with his parents in suburban Streamwood, has schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
Meanwhile, David Boyd, the victim’s brother-in-law, said Friday that the teen has been “struggling” to recover after his ordeal but is safe with his family.
A man who runs a Reddit site called Uplifting News started a GoFundMe page for the victim that had raised more than $42,000 Friday from in excess of 1,500 donors, according to the fundraising website. Razor Sheldon, of San Francisco, said he does not know the family but wanted to focus on helping the victim rather than seeking vengeance against the perpetrators.
On his fundraising webpage, Sheldon called the crime “horrific” and wrote of the victim: “Let’s prove to him that there is far more good in this world than the evil he experienced.”
Boyd said he spoke with Sheldon and GoFundMe to verify the legitimacy of the fund and said a family member had set up another GoFundMe campaign.
He said the family is grateful for the outpouring of support but added: “We’re not asking anyone for anything. We’re a little overwhelmed. We don’t want to take advantage of anybody.”
Prosecutors said the victim’s mother dropped him off at a McDonald’s in Streamwood on Dec. 31 to meet a friend. He later asked to stay at the friend’s place both that night and the next. But by Monday, the family was no longer hearing from the teen. Later that same day, however, the victim’s brother found out on Facebook that his brother was with Hill. The mother reached out to Hill on Facebook to say she wanted her son to return home, prosecutors said.
Angered by the mother’s Facebook contacts, Hill, who by then had stolen a van and bought and smoked marijuana with the teen, beat the victim in the back of the van, prosecutors said.
Shortly after the two arrived at the sisters’ third-floor West Side apartment, Hill started to harass and slap the victim, prosecutors said. Armed with a knife, Hill was joined by Cooper in ordering the teen to face the wall in a corner, screaming at him and forcing him to kiss the floor and say, “I love black people,” prosecutors said.
By Tuesday, Brittany Covington began posting the abuse live on Facebook, prosecutors said. The shocking 28-minute video showed the victim crouched in a corner and mostly motionless with an expression of fear on his face. His mouth was taped shut and his hands and feet appeared to be bound with orange electrical tape.
Among the abuse seen on the Facebook video, prosecutors said, was one of the women laughing as she punched the teen; a male foot on the victim’s head; the teen groaning in pain as a male pulled a cord around his neck; and the victim screaming in fear when a male approached with a knife, saying, “Should I shank his a–?”
At one point, prosecutors allege, Hill and Cooper ordered the victim into a bathroom and forced him to drink water from the toilet while punching him in the back of the head and ordering him to say, “F— Trump!”
Later the teen was bound and gagged, a sock placed in his mouth and his lips taped shut. With the knife, Hill then cut a chunk of the victim’s hair, cutting his head, and stabbed him in the left forearm, prosecutors said.
Downstairs residents twice complained Tuesday about the “banging, yelling and stomping sounds along with laughing” from their neighbors, prosecutors said. The second time, both sisters and Cooper chased the neighbors to their apartment while Hill ran out of the apartment building, threatening to come back with a gun, prosecutors said. Cooper then kicked in the neighbors’ front door and broke into their residence with the two sisters as the two neighbors fled their apartment, prosecutors said.
The victim was able to flee the building. Passing patrol officers stopped him a block away while outdoors in shorts, a tank top and sandals despite freezing temperatures. Police discovered he had been reported missing from Streamwood by his parents.
He was treated at a hospital for cuts to his head, face and body as well as a stab wound to his left arm, authorities said.
Police believe the victim was tied up for four or five hours.
The neighbors, interviewed by a Tribune reporter at their residence Friday afternoon, revealed that the victim’s family had met with them to express their gratitude. The family offered to pay for the two roommates, 19 and 22, to vacation in the Bahamas, said the women, who asked for anonymity out of concern for their safety.
Their front door had already been replaced.
Before the charges were announced Thursday, the video had became a national rallying cry for conservative pundits who tried to pin the blame for the attack on the Black Lives Matters movement. Debate also raged on social media and cable news stations.
A spokesman for the victim’s family said they hoped the incident would open a dialogue about how such behavior can happen.
“We don’t want this to be hoisted out as a cause for some kind of racist or race-related issues,” said Chicago attorney Neal Strom. “We don’t think things like this should happen to anybody.”
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