CHICAGO — A Chicago judge refused to allow four black people caught on cellphone footage taunting and beating a mentally disabled white man to post bail and leave jail, saying they are accused of such “terrible actions” that they are a danger to society.
“Where was your sense of decency?” Cook County Circuit Judge Maria Kuriakos Ciesil asked them on Friday during their first court appearance, sounding baffled that the suspects could be charged with such cruelty toward the 18-year-old victim.
The beating was captured on cellphone video by one of the assailants and has since been viewed millions of times on social media. The graphic footage shows the suspects taunting the victim with profanities against white people and President-elect Donald Trump.
Prosecutors offered new details of the assault, explaining that one of the suspects demanded $300 from the mother of the victim, who is schizophrenic and has attention-deficit disorder. They also said the beating started in a van when the same attacker became angry that the mother had contacted him asking that her son be allowed to come home.
A prosecutor told the judge that the suspects forced the victim to drink toilet water, kiss the floor and then allegedly stuffed a sock into his mouth and taped it shut as they bound his hands with a belt.
The four are charged with two counts of committing a hate crime — one because of the victim’s race and the other because of his mental disabilities.
On the video, the male suspects use knives to cut the victim’s hair and his sweatshirt. One of the females can be seen laughing. A female also laughs as she punches the victim.
One of the men pulls the cord from the victim’s sweatshirt around the victim’s neck and holds him up while the victim groans in pain, according to a document read in court. The victim can be heard screaming when one of the men walks up to him with a knife and asks if he should “shank” him.
At one point, the prosecutor said, someone on the video can be heard saying that he did not care if the victim was schizophrenic.
The four suspects 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.
They stood quietly as the prosecutor read the allegations. Some of their relatives also listened, including a woman who wiped tears from her eyes.
Defense attorneys portrayed the suspects as hardworking, responsible and religious. Cooper, for example, takes care of his twin brother, who is in a wheelchair. Tanishia Covington has two small children. Her sister attends college and has a job. Hill, the judge was told, goes to church with his grandmother.
All four have experienced brushes with the law, some for serious and violent crimes.
Hill, for example, was arrested as a juvenile 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 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 campaign that split the nation. Some conservatives suggested it was linked to the Black Lives Matter movement. Police said there was no indication of any connection.
The incident began New Year’s Eve, when the victim and alleged assailant Jordan Hill met at a suburban McDonald’s, and then called his parents later to say he was staying with Hill for a sleepover.
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, police said.
The victim’s parents reported him missing Monday evening, two days after last hearing from him. The victim eventually escaped and a police officer spotted him wandering down a street, bloodied and disoriented.