CHICAGO >> The two teens had been schoolmates, police said. After meeting in suburban Chicago, they spent two days together, driving around visiting friends. Then a pretend fight between them escalated into a real beating, and the attack on a mentally disabled teenager stirred racial tensions after being broadcast on Facebook Live.
Authorities say four black people assaulted the white suburban teenager, threatening him with a knife and taunting him with profanities against white people and President-elect Donald Trump. The suspects were charged Thursday with hate crimes, kidnapping and battery. They were to make their first court appearance today.
The beating was captured on cellphone video by one of the assailants and has since been viewed millions of times on social media.
“This should never have happened,” David Boyd, the victim’s brother-in-law, said at a brief news conference in suburban Chicago. He said the victim was traumatized but doing as well as could be expected.
Neal Strom, a family spokesman, told The Associated Press the victim has had “profound emotional and physical disabilities throughout his life.” He did not elaborate.
Police said drug use may have been involved in the incident. The video shows the two female suspects smoking what authorities “presume to be blunts,” a term often used for a marijuana-filled cigar. While the victim was tied up, his attackers used racial slurs and made references “to his mental capacity,” Chicago Police Commander Kevin Duffin said.
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.
The cruelty of the attack and the intense social media exposure prompted President Barack Obama to respond, calling it “despicable.”
“I take these things very seriously,” he told Chicago’s WBBM-TV on Thursday. But he said the assault does not mean that race relations have gotten worse.
“We see visuals of racial tensions, violence and so forth because of smartphones and the internet and media … a lot of the problems that have been there a long time,” he said.
Chicago police initially said the youth was singled out because he has “special needs,” not because he was white. But authorities later said the charges resulted from both the suspects’ use of racial slurs and their references to the victim’s disability.
Cook County prosecutors identified the suspects 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.
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 police report said the victim’s mother knew the first name of her son’s friend — Jordan — but wasn’t clear on his last name. The report also noted that the victim “does not like telling his parents who he’s with.”
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.
The grandmother of Brittany Covington said the granddaughter she raised from infancy is “not this person.”
“I’m so upset, my head is about to bust open,” said Priscilla Covington of Chicago. “I don’t know if someone influenced her. … She had her ups and down. (She) was a good person. I’m so confused.”