“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett staged a racist, anti-gay attack on himself because he was unhappy about his salary and wanted to promote his career, Chicago’s police superintendent said Thursday.
Before the attack, Smollett also sent a letter that threatened him to the studio in Chicago where “Empire” is shot, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
Smollett, who is black and gay, turned himself in Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report last month when he told authorities he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said. He was expected to appear in court later in the day.
The actor “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference.
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” he added.
The FBI has been investigating the letter. Johnson would not say whether Smollett could face additional charges for that.
The companies that make “Empire,” Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, issued a statement Thursday saying that they were “evaluating the situation” and “considering our options.”
In less than a month, Smollett went from being the seemingly sympathetic victim of a hate crime to being accused of fabricating the entire thing. The 36-year-old was charged Wednesday with felony disorderly conduct, a charge that could bring up to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a Jan. 29 beating.
Police treated Smollett as a victim until two brothers they had taken into custody for questioning last week admitted to helping him stage the attack, Johnson said.
It was the brothers who also explained Smollett’s motive to detectives. Authorities have a check for $3,500 that Smollett paid the brothers, he said.
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FAKE NEWS!!! Prominent media outlets and politicans (several #2020 candidates) breathlessly expressed outrage when actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was the victim of a vicious hate crime – which he is now suspected of having made up!!! . . Smollet claimed he was leaving a #Chicago Subway sandwich shop at 2 AM one sub-zero night in late January, when two masked men recognized him as an openly-gay black actor and hurled #racist and #homophobic slurs at him, beat him to the point of breaking his ribs, doused him with bleach, tied a noose around his neck, before pronouncing “This is #MAGA Country!” and fleeing. . Rather than investigate the story, major media outlests used their platform to uncritically spread the story, and even adding new details along the way (such as that the attackers wore “Make America Great Again” hats). This vicious hate crime, they said, painted a disturbing picture of America in #2019. #jussiesmollett #fakenews #journalism #cnn #trump #presidenttrump #donaldtrump #makeamericagreatagain🇺🇸
Smollett said he was attacked as he was walking home from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is MAGA country” — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — before fleeing.
In describing what police believe actually happened, Johnson made it sound as if Smollett was casting and directing a short movie.
“He probably knew he needed somebody with bulk,” he said of Smollett’s decision to hire the two muscular brothers. Police have said at least one of the brothers worked on “Empire,” and Smollett’s attorneys said one of the men is the actor’s personal trainer.
When it came time to stage the attack, Johnson said, Smollett chose a spot that he believed would be captured by one of Chicago’s many security cameras. But “that particular camera wasn’t pointed in that direction,” Johnson said.
The brothers, who are not considered suspects, wore gloves during the staged attack and “punched him a little bit,” Johnson said. The scratches and bruising Smollett had on his face were “most likely self-inflicted,” Johnson said.
Initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for Smollett on social media, including from Senators Corey Booker (D-NJ) and Kamala Harris (D-Ca) – who both called it a “modern day lynching”.
Referring to a published account of the attack, Trump last month that “it doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.” On Thursday, he tweeted to Smollett: “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA.”
There is no such thing as “racially charged.”
This attack was not “possibly” homophobic. It was a racist and homophobic attack.
If you don’t like what is happening to our country, then work to change it. It is no one’s job to water down or sugar-coat the rise of hate crimes. https://t.co/QAi0IYtSeR
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) January 30, 2019
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) on her tweet saying the Jussie Smollett case was an “attempted modern-day lynching”:
“Which tweet? What tweet? … [laughs] Um, ah, ah, uh, okay, so I will say this about that case, I think the facts are still unfolding and um, I’m very, um, concerned” pic.twitter.com/qKwI2lewzR
— Ryan Saavedra (@RealSaavedra) February 18, 2019
In a statement Wednesday, attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said Smollett “enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked.”
Detectives found the two brothers after reviewing hundreds of hours of video. They released images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the pair at O’Hare Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.
The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett.
The two appeared before a grand jury on Wednesday to “lock in their testimony,” according to police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.
“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said.
She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. “You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.
Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.
Smollett has a record — one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.
Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly monthlong investigation, including the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.
The size of the tab is anyone’s guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.
Weisberg recently represented a client who was charged with making a false report after surveillance video discredited her account of being robbed by three men at O’Hare Airport.
For an investigation that took a single day, his client had to split restitution of $8,400, Weisberg said. In Smollett’s case, “I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.”