The Chicago Police Department held a press conference on Thursday to brief reporters on the terms of Jussie Smollett’s arrest. The Empire star surrendered to authorities earlier that day and faces a felony criminal charge of disorderly conduct/filing a false police report in connection with his alleged attack last month.
“Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Superintendent Eddie Johnson said. “I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in the face by making these false claims?
“Bogus police reports cause real harm,” Johnson continued. “They do harm to every legitimate victim who’s in need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of this city… This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve. To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks. Celebrities, news commentators, even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor.”
Johnson went on to detail how Smollett carried out the staged attack and the alleged reason behind it. “First, Smollett attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language,” he said. “When that didn’t work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process. And why? This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary, so he concocted a story about being attacked.” (Smollett reportedly makes $65,000 per episode of Empire.)
How can justice best be served here, in the Chicago PD’s eyes? Said Johnson, “Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared; admitting what he did; and then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in term, in terms of all the resources that were put into this.”
On Wednesday, Chicago police announced that the actor was now officially classified a suspect in a criminal investigation for filing a false police report, which is a Class 4 felony. A Cook County grand jury has since returned an indictment, and Smollett now faces a maximum of three years in prison if found guilty. At the time of the announcement, Chicago authorities were said to be in contact with Smollett’s legal team to “negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.”
Smollett’s attorneys responded with a statement: “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. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
Smollett was the alleged victim of an attack in Chicago last month, in which two men supposedly approached the actor/singer and began hurling racist and homophobic slurs at him. According to the original account, the two men beat Smollett, poured a chemical substance (believed to be bleach) on him and tied a noose around his neck before fleeing the scene. Smollett also told police that the assailants “yelled pro-‘Make America Great Again’ [MAGA] comments” during the attack.
Later developments cast doubt on Smollett’s account, including the questioning of two suspects — a pair of Nigerian brothers, one of whom worked as a personal trainer on a music video of Smollett’s — who were later released without being charged. Smollett’s lawyers have insisted that the actor played no role in his attack, and 20th Century Fox, the producers of Empire, have stood behind him, denying reports that his role on the show is being reduced in light of the controversy: “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set, and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show.”
UPDATE: President Donald Trump, who’d previously called Smollett’s attack “horrible,” reversed his position after Thursday’s press conference.