Empire actor was released from jail after posting bond. Police say scratches and bruises ‘most likely self-inflicted’
Article originally published by The Guardian.
The actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was attacked and beaten by two masked men shouting racist and homophobic slurs because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on the TV show Empire, Chicago police have said.
Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career”, the Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference on Thursday morning, shortly after Smollett was arrested.
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” Johnson added.
Smollett, 36, ignited a firestorm on social media by telling police on 29 January that two apparent supporters of Donald Trump had struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him.
Johnson said Smollett paid two men $3,500 to stage the attack, and the scratches and bruising Smollett had on his face after the incident were “most likely self-inflicted”.
He said the actor also sent a racist and homophobic threatening letter to himself at the Fox studio lot in Chicago, where Empire is filmed.
The actor, who is gay, handed himself in to police on Thursday morning after he was charged with felony disorderly conduct on Wednesday for making a false police report.
The charge could bring up to three years in prison.
It could also force Smollett to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report.
Smollett later appeared in court where his bail was set at $100,000 and he was asked to surrender his passport.
He was released from the Cook county jail after posting bond.
He didn’t speak to the large media contingent waiting outside.
Smollett maintains his innocence, his attorneys said in a statement Thursday evening.
“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 said.
Smollett said little during the hearing, except to state his name.
He was joined in the courtroom by family members.
The companies that make Empire, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, issued a statement on Thursday saying they were “evaluating the situation” and “considering our options”.
In less than a month, Smollett went from receiving an outpouring of support for being the apparent victim of a hate crime, to being accused of fabricating the entire scenario.
Initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from California senator Kamala Harris and the TV talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres.
Trump also condemned the reported attack and said: “It doesn’t get on worse, as far as I’m concerned.”
But on Thursday Trump tweeted to Smollett: “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
Smollett, who plays a gay character in the hit Fox show, had said he was attacked as he was walking home at 2am from a downtown Subway sandwich shop.
He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is Maga country”, an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, before fleeing.
But doubts about Smollett’s claims started with reports that he had not fully cooperated with police after telling authorities he was attacked.
Then detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the attack.
Authorities said on Thursday that the scheme was set in motion a few days before the brothers, Abindola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were scheduled to fly to Nigeria.
“Might need your help on the low,” Smollett wrote to Abel, a friend he worked out with and who worked on the show as a stand-in for another character, according to prosecutors’ summary.
During a meeting with the brothers, Smollett told them he wanted the attack to happen on 28 January near his apartment, and that he wanted them to get his attention by calling out slurs, prosecutors said.
He is accused of instructing them to put the rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell the MAGA remark.
Smollett then gave one of the brothers $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps that resemble those worn by Trump supporters, according to prosecutors.
He drove them to the spot where he wanted the attack to take place, taking time to show them the camera that he said would capture it.
He later wrote a check to one of the brothers for $3,500 and flew to New York, prosecutors said.
The time of the “attack” was pushed back to 2am the following day because Smollett’s return flight was delayed.
The brothers ordered an Uber ride to pick them up at their apartment and climbed into the vehicle toting their supplies, including bleach because there was a decision to use that instead of gasoline, according to the prosecutors’ summary.
The encounter lasted about 45 seconds.
The brothers, Johnson said, “punched him a little bit,” but the scratches and bruises that Smollett had on his face were “most likely self-inflicted”.
Police pieced together the timeline through Chicago’s extensive video surveillance system.
When police arrived, he told them what happened and pointed out the nearby surveillance camera, prosecutors said at the court hearing.
Smollett also tried to mislead police about the suspects, telling them that the area around one attacker’s eyes was white skinned, even though the brothers are black, prosecutors said.
Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo were taken into custody for questioning last week but were released after two days, with police saying they were no longer suspects, and that they had seen a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the investigation.
The brothers testified before a grand jury on Wednesday.
Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.
“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said.
She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity.
“You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.