CHICAGO (CBS) — Accusing him of slapping the city in the face, Chicago police announced Thursday that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett had been charged with concocting an attack in Streeterville, because “he was dissatisfied with his salary.”
“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said at a news conference Thursday morning. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.”
Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police early Thursday morning, hours after he was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack against himself last month in Streeterville. Smollett turned himself in at the Central District police station at 18th and State streets around 5 a.m., police said. He made no statement to police.
At a bond hearing Thursday afternoon, a judge set Smollett’s bail at $100,000. He would have to put up $10,000 to be released from custody. He also must surrender his passport. Smollett left the Cook County Jail, surrounded by a security detail, around 3:45 p.m.
Somber and wan Smollett appeared in the packed Chicago courtroom. Two rows of supporters sat behind Smollett and dozens of media filled the other side of the courtroom as the judge sternly addressed Smollett, saying Smollett is presumed innocent, but if true, the charges are “outrageous.” The judge said the use of the noose was the most surprising part. Smollett’s attorneys denied the allegations, saying the actions charged are not consistent with the actor’s character.
His legal team released a statement Thursday evening condemning the handling of the case.
“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 actor’s future on “Empire” is unclear now that he’s facing felony charges, but right after leaving jail Smollett went to Cinespace, the studio where “Empire” and other tv shows are shot.
“We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options,” Fox officials said in a statement.
Meantime, TNT has pulled an episode of “Drop The Mic” featuring Smollett. The show features celebrities facing off in rap roast battles.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, had told police he was attacked as he was walking home around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. He claimed two masked men – one of them also wearing a red hat – shouted racist and homophobic slurs as they beat him, put a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical on him.
Police said, in reality, Smollett had paid those two men, Ola and Abel Osundairo, $3,500 by check to stage the attack. CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar has reported Smollett also directed the brothers to buy the noose at a hardware store and the hat and masks at a store in Uptown. Johnson said police have the check.
“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?”
Police said the two brothers wore gloves during the staged attack, and did punch Smollett, but the scratches and bruises on Smollett’s face most likely were self-inflicted.
Johnson said bogus police reports cause real harm, and he fears for future victims of real hate crimes.
“My concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen,” he said.
Disorderly conduct is a Class 4 Felony. CBS 2 Legal Analyst Irv Miller says Smollett could one to three years in prison.
Ola and Abel Osundairo, were arrested last week, but later released without charges. They left for Nigeria hours after the attack, and were arrested days later when they returned to Chicago.
On Wednesday, they testified to a grand jury. Smollett was later charged with disorderly conduct.
The two brothers allegedly told police Smollett also was behind creating a racist letter sent to the show, according to two sources with first-hand knowledge of the investigation.
At Smollett’s bond hearing, prosecutors said the letter was coated in a white powder that turned out to be crushed ibuprofen pills.
Johnson confirmed Smollett was behind that letter, and when it didn’t get the reaction he wanted, “Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process.”
“This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked,” Johnson added.
On Jan. 25, Smollett allegedly texted Abel Osundairo, asking him when he was leaving for an upcoming trip to Nigeria. After learning the trip was planned for Jan. 29, Smollett tried to arrange a face-to-face meeting.
“Might need your help on the low. You around to meet up and talk face to face,” Smollett sent in a text, according to prosecutors.
The two then planned to meet the afternoon of Jan. 25, and drove to Abel’s apartment in Lakeview. On their way to the apartment, Smollett allegedly complained about the “Empire” studio’s handling of the letter, and told Abel he wanted to orchestrate an attack in which Abel and his brother, Ola, would appear to beat him.
Prosecutors said Smollett later discussed his plans for the attack with the brothers, telling them he wanted them to approach him near his apartment in Streeterville and call him an “Empire f*****” and “Empire n*****.” He also allegedly told them to attack him, but not injure him too badly, and give him a chance to fight back. He also allegedly told Ola to place a noose around his neck, pour gasoline on him, and yell, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign catchprhase.
Smollett and the two brothers allegedly practiced the attack two days later, with a change of plans; to use bleach instead of gasoline. Smollett then allegedly gave them a check for $3,500, backdated to Jan. 23.
CBS 2 was first to obtain video of the brothers buying a red hat and ski masks from a store the day before the assault. The video shows Ola and Abel Osundairo placing the masks and a hat on the counter.
The brothers were arrested Feb. 13, when they returned from a trip to Nigeria. After being questioned by police for nearly two days, they agreed to cooperate against Smollett, according to prosecutors.
The brothers’ attorney Gloria Schmidt spoke to the media after the brothers testified in front of the grand jury for 2.5 hours.
“I think the biggest thing for the American people to know is that this story has a lot of complications to it,” Schmidt said.
Schmidt says the brothers are not expecting to be charged with any crime “because they are not guilty of anything.”
“I think Jussie’s conscience is not letting him sleep tonight,” Schmidt said. “So he should unload that conscience and just come out to the American people what actually happened.”
CBS 2’s Brad Edwards confirms Geragos will serve on Smollett’s defense team, which will still be led by Chicago-based attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson.
Geragos’ client list includes pop star Michael Jackson, actor Winona Ryder, and singers Chris Brown and Sean “Diddy” Combs.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a short 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.”