Four suspects have been charged with hate crimes, kidnapping, battery and burglary after a Facebook Live broadcast in Chicago
appeared to show a person with disabilities bound, gagged and brutally attacked amid shouts of “fuck Donald Trump”.
The footage, which was live-streamed on Facebook, showed several people taunting and assaulting the man while he was sitting in the corner of a room, restrained and with his mouth taped closed.
Police identified the suspects as Jordan Hill, Tesfaye Cooper, Brittany Covington, and Tanishia Covington. The suspects are all 18 years old, except Tanishia Covington, who is 24, according to the Associated Press.
Chicago police will hold a press conference Thursday to detail the charges at 3.15pm ET.
Previewing the release, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Guardian that in addition to charges of aggravated kidnapping, suspects were accused of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon, robbery and residential burglary and aggravated unlawful restraint.
The individuals captured on video tormenting the victim are black. The victim, who at one point appears to be forced to shout the words “fuck Trump”, is white.
Guglielmi did not immediately have details on the nature of the hate crime accusations, but said he did not believe the suspects attacked the victim due to his race.
“This group of individuals was not traveling around looking to apprehend a white man,” he said. “He was not targeted because he was white.”
Guglielmi said it took time for the victim to articulate the “severity” of the incident to police, adding: “This was an individual who was of special needs and was taken advantage of, and we’re going to be intolerant of that type of behavior. We are going to present the strongest case possible to the state’s attorney.”
On Wednesday, police gave their first account of the incident at a press conference. “Video of a brutal act towards an adult male with mental health challenges made its way onto social media,” police superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters. “The images in the video put on display the brazenness of the offenders who assaulted the victim and then broadcast it for the entire world to see.”
Police commander Kevin Duffin said the victim, who is not a Chicago resident, was a school acquaintance of one of the four suspects and suggested the suspects may have stolen a van in the suburbs and “brought him out to Chicago”.
He added that the victim had been reported missing, and spent at least 24 hours – and possibly up to 48 hours – with the suspects.
“He’s traumatized by the incident and it’s very tough to communicate with him at this point,” he added of the victim. “It took most of the night for him to calm down enough to be able to talk to us.”
The disturbing footage, which gained a wider audience when it was shared on Wednesday via Youtube, lasts around 30 minutes and at one point appeared to have 16,000 Facebook views. Large parts consist of a woman, who police confirmed is among the suspects, smoking and talking animatedly into the camera.
At one point she appears to respond to real-time comments from other Facebook users. “My sister said it’s not funny,” the woman said. A male voice interjects: “Tell Donald Trump that’s not funny.”
The references to the president-elect are peppered throughout the video.
At another point, a male suspect appears to take a knife to the top of the victim’s head. Subsequent footage appears to show the victim bleeding.
“Look at him, tied up,” one man can be heard saying, laughing and threatening to put the victim “in a trunk”. At one point, a suspect appeared to grab the victim by his neck and tighten the ties around him.
“I’ll torture the fuck out of you,” a man later said in the video, looking at the camera. Another male voice can be heard adding: “There’s going to be a murder here.”
In the footage, the victim does not appear to try to defend himself or escape.
Police said the victim was discovered by patrol officers on Tuesday, disoriented and confused, and transported to a local hospital for treatment. Officers later responded to a battery at a residence nearby where “they discovered signs of a struggle and damage to the property” and linked the case to the hospitalized man, police added.
A grandmother of one of the suspects told the Associated Press that the granddaughter she had raised from infancy is “not this person”.
“I’m so upset, my head is about to bust open,” said Priscilla Covington of Chicago, who said she spoke to her granddaughter just days ago.
“I don’t know if someone influenced her ... She had her ups and down. [She] was a good person,” said Covington.
A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement: “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.”