Judge to Facebook torture suspects: ‘Where was your sense of decency?’

Chicago Police via AP

Chicago Police via AP

CHICAGO — A judge rebuked four people accused of beating a mentally disabled man and broadcasting the attack on Facebook, sternly asking, “Where was your sense of decency?” before denying their attorneys’ pleas to set bail so they might be released from jail.

“I find each of you a danger to yourself and society,” Cook County Circuit Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil said,  sounding baffled that the suspects who hold jobs, attend school, live with grandparents and, in one case, care for a brother in a wheelchair, could stand accused of attacking the 18-year-old victim. How, she wondered, could she agree to allow people accused of such “terrible actions” walk out of jail?

Prosecutors offered new details of the assault, explaining that one of the suspects demanded $300 from the victim’s mother and that the beating started in a van and continued at a house.

The suspects are accused of forcing the victim to drink toilet water and kiss the floor. They allegedly stuffed a sock into his mouth, taped his mouth shut and bound his hands with a belt.

Authorities say they also threatened him with a knife and taunted him with profanities against white people and President-elect Donald Trump.

The 18-year-old victim, who is from a Chicago suburb, suffers from schizophrenia and attention-deficit disorder, authorities said.

The suspects are all are charged with two hate crimes — one because the young man was disabled and one because of race. They are also accused of kidnapping and battery, among other offenses.

The four were identified as Brittany Covington and Tesfaye Cooper, both of Chicago, and Jordan Hill, of suburban Carpentersville. All are 18. A fourth suspect was identified as Covington’s 24-year-old sister, Tanishia Covington, also of Chicago.

Two of the suspects were arrested as juveniles on armed robbery and other serious charges.

Hill was arrested in 2015 on allegations of armed robbery, possession of a stolen vehicle and residential burglary. Chicago police said they did not know the disposition of those arrests by suburban officers.

Tanishia Covington was arrested in 2007 on attempted armed robbery and aggravated battery charges. Police records do not show any convictions as a juvenile. As an adult, she was arrested on charges of battery and aggravated assault, but those charges were dropped.

The beating was captured on cellphone video by one of the assailants and has since been viewed millions of times on social media.

The uproar over the beating intensified the glare on Chicago after a bloody year of violent crime and protests against Mayor Rahm Emanuel and a police department that has been accused of using excessive force and hushing-up wrongdoing. The department has also been the subject of a long civil-rights investigation by the Justice Department, which is expected to report its findings soon.

The incident also stirred emotions still raw after a presidential election campaign that split the nation. The case heightened political tensions on social media, with some conservatives suggesting it was linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. Police said there was no indication of any connection.

Excerpts of the video posted by Chicago media outlets show the victim with his mouth taped shut and slumped in a corner of a room. At least two assailants are seen cutting off his sweatshirt, and others taunt him off camera. The video shows a wound on the top of the man’s head. One person pushes the man’s head with his or her foot.

A red band also appears to be around the victim’s hands. He was tied up for four to five hours, authorities said.

The incident began New Year’s Eve, when the victim and alleged assailant Jordan Hill met at a suburban McDonald’s to begin what both the victim and his parents believed would be a sleepover, police said.

Instead, Hill drove the victim around in a stolen van for a couple of days, ending up at a home in Chicago, where two of the other suspects lived, Detective Commander Kevin Duffin said.

The victim told police what began as playful fighting escalated. A downstairs neighbor who heard noises threatened to call police. When two of the suspects left and kicked down the neighbor’s door, the victim escaped. A police officer later spotted the bloodied and obviously disoriented man wandering down a street.

The victim’s parents reported him missing Monday evening, two days after last hearing from him. The parents later received text messages “from persons claiming to be holding him captive,” police said. While investigating the messages, police discovered the Facebook video.