CHICAGO (CBS) — When detectives learned “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett had allegedly concocted a hate crime because he was upset with his salary, “quite frankly it pissed everybody off,” an angry Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Thursday, hours after Smollett’s arrest for disorderly conduct.
Johnson said Smollett, who is black and openly gay, enlisted two men to stage what the actor claimed was a racist and homophobic attack in Streeterville as a “publicity stunt.”
“To put the national spotlight on Chicago for something that is both egregious and untrue is simply shameful,” Johnson said Thursday morning, hours after Smollett turned himself in on a felony charge of disorderly conduct.
If convicted, Smollett could face 1 to 3 years in prison, but Johnson said the actor also should apologize and reimburse the Chicago Police Department for all the resources it poured into investigating his claims.
“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 terms of all the resources that were put into this,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the scheme started with Johnson creating a letter that was sent to the set of “Empire,” containing letters apparently cut out from magazines to create words, creating racist and homophobic threats against Smollett. When that didn’t get the reaction Smollett wanted, police said he paid two brothers $3,500 by check to help him orchestrate an attack in Streeterville.
“I only hope that the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention that the hoax did,” he said. “I’ll continue to pray for this troubled young man who resorted to both drastic and illegal tactics to gain attention.”
The superintendent said Smollett concocted the entire scheme because was upset with his salary on “Empire.”
“When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly it pissed everybody off,” Johnson said. “It’s shameful, because it painted this city that we all love and work hard in in a negative connotation. You know, to insinuate and to stage a hate crime of that nature, when he knew as a celebrity it would get a lot of attention, is just despicable.”
Smollett had told police two masked men shouted racist and homophobic slurs as they beat him, placed a noose around his neck, and poured bleach on him as he was walking home around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29.
“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?” Johnson said. “How can an individual who’s been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”
The case drew national headlines, especially as Smollett’s claims started to unravel, and police began investigating whether he’d staged the whole thing.
“As I look out into the crowd, I just wish that the families of gun violence in the city got this much attention, because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’re giving to this particular incident,” Johnson said. “I love the city of Chicago, and the Chicago Police Department, warts and all, but this publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.”
While as many as a dozen detectives worked the case, Johnson said no resources were ever pulled off of shooting or homicide cases to investigate Smollett’s claims.
“Any time a hate crime is reported in the city of Chicago, it gets the same attention. This didn’t get any special attention. You all gave this more attention specifically than we do. We give every hate crime in this city the same amount of vigor, because there’s no place for hatred in this city,” the superintendent said.
Still, Johnson said bogus police reports cause real harm.
“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,” Johnson said.
“The Chicago Police Department will continue to investigate all reports of these types of incidents with the same amount of vigor that we did with this one,” he added. “My concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen.”
Smollett was scheduled to appear for a bond hearing Thursday afternoon.