Jussie Smollett was arrested by police in Chicago early Thursday, three weeks after the “Empire” actor and singer claimed he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack. Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for falsifying a police report, a Class 4 felony that is punishable by up to three years in prison.
Smollett’s posted $100,000 bond Thursday afternoon and was released. A judge ordered the 36-year-old to surrender his passport.
According to reporters inside the courtroom, Smollett took deep breaths and shook his head several times as his family members stood in the gallery. His next court appearance is scheduled for March 14.
“Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference earlier Thursday morning. “I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose?”
“Accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks,” Johnson continued. “Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor.”
Johnson began the press conference by lamenting the attention Smollett’s case has received.
“As I look out into the crowd, I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said.
Smollett turned himself in to police at 5:15 a.m. local time and made a statement to police before being taken into custody.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. 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,” Smollett’s lawyers said in a statement prior to his surrender. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
Risa Lanier, a prosecutor with the Cook County State Attorney’s Office, emerged from Smollett’s bond hearing to detail the chronology of the alleged plot.
Smollett told police he was attacked by two masked men as he was leaving a Subway restaurant near his apartment in Chicago around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. Smollett, who is black and gay, initially said the men shouted racist and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck. He claimed the alleged attackers yelled “MAGA country” — a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The actor said he sustained injuries to his clavicle bone and bruised ribs during the attack.
Police later identified and questioned two “persons of interest” captured on surveillance video near the scene around the time of the alleged attack. The men, Nigerian brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 by check to help orchestrate and stage the crime after he became upset that a threatening letter — addressed to him and sent to the Fox set where “Empire” is filmed — did not get enough attention.
The crude letter was sent in an envelope that contained a powdery substance and had “MAGA” written on it. The substance was later determined to be aspirin. Police said Thursday that they believe Smollett sent the letter to himself.
“This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary,” Johnson told reporters.
The brothers were released without charges, and police said they were no longer considered suspects.
“Who the f*** would make something up like this?” he asked. “I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate. And it feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”
“I think people need to hear the truth,” he added. “’Cause everybody has their own idea. Some are healing and some are hurtful, but I just want young people, young members of the LGBTQ community — young black children — to know how strong that they are.”
During his press briefing, Johnson was asked by reporters what he would consider justice in Smollett’s case.
“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did,” Johnson said.
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