Jussie Smollett, facing up to three years in prison, “fiercely” maintains that he is innocent of of filing a false police report in claiming he was attacked.
On Thursday, after Smollett posted bail (10 percent of a $100,000 bond) at the Cook County courthouse in Chicago, lawyers for the Empire actor issued a statement saying, “Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election.
“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing,” the statement concluded.
The proclamation of innocence jibes with what Smollett reportedly told castmates upon resurfacing on the set of Fox’s Empire Thursday. Sources told TMZ that after apologizing for putting the cast through this spectacle, Smollett added, “I swear to God, I did not do this.”
Smollett was arrested on Feb. 21 in Chicago and currently faces a felony criminal charge of disorderly conduct/filing a false police report. On Jan. 29, he reported to Chicago police that he was the victim of an early morning attack in which two men taunted him with racist and homophobic slurs before beating him, pouring a liquid on him and placing a noose around his neck. Smollett also claimed that the men referenced “MAGA” — President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan — during the incident. The actor elaborated on the attack in a February Good Morning America interview, telling Robin Roberts that he’d been “forever changed” by what happened to him.
New developments quickly cast doubt on Smollett’s account, including the questioning of two suspects — Nigerian brothers, one of whom works as a stand-in on Empire — who were later released without being charged. At a press conference following Smollett’s arrest, Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson shared details about Smollett’s involvement in the attack, revealing that the actor was allegedly unhappy with his Empire salary, prompting him to stage the incident. (Sources tell THR, though, that there have been no signs that Smollett is dissatisfied with his pay.)
Smollett’s future on Empire remains unclear. Though 20th Century Fox Television (which produces the show) originally insisted that Smollett’s Jamal Lyon was “not being written out,” his arrest prompted the studio to release a new statement: “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”