Jussie Smollett was arrested on Thursday, February 21, for filing a false police report after claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack, Us Weekly confirms.
Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a press conference later on Thursday that Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.” He allegedly paid $3,500 by personal check to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary, according to Johnson. HuffPost reported that Smollett was paid $65,000 per episode for his role in season 5 of the Fox musical drama.
After the Mighty Ducks star’s arrest, his legal team released a statement to Us: “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.”
Smollett claimed to police on January 29 that he was physically attacked by two men at approximately 2 a.m. after picking up food at a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago. He reported that the assailants yelled racist and homophobic slurs and “This is MAGA country” before pouring an unknown chemical substance on him and wrapping a rope around his neck. Smollett had received a threatening letter days before the reported attack, which authorities now believe the star wrote himself.
The actor, who is openly gay, spoke out publicly on February 1 for the first time since the incident and assured fans that he was OK. “I need a moment to process,” he said in a statement to Essence, adding that he believed “justice will be served.”
During a sit-down interview with Robin Roberts on the February 14 episode of Good Morning America, Smollett spoke more extensively about what police initially described as a “possible hate crime.” He explained that he was talking to his manager on the phone when the attack occurred, but he decided against turning over his cellphone records to investigators because he had “private pictures and videos and numbers.”
The singer’s side of the story was met with some skepticism on social media, which heightened when ABC 7 Chicago reported later on February 14 that he staged the attack over fears about the future of his Empire character, Jamal Lyon. However, a Chicago police spokesman called the report “uninformed and inaccurate” at the time, and the show’s producers insisted they continued “to stand behind” Smollett.
More hoax reports surfaced on Saturday, February 16, after authorities arrested two potential suspects, Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, but released them hours later without charges. The brothers, both of whom have had minor roles on Empire, told investigators that Smollett paid them to orchestrate the attack. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi later confirmed to Us that the “information received from the individuals questioned by police … has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” Guglielmi then announced on Wednesday, February 20, that Smollett had been officially “classified as a suspect” in the investigation and was subsequently charged with a felony and arrested.
Smollett has repeatedly asserted that he is a victim and said, via his attorney, that he is “angered and devastated” by the hoax speculation. His legal team has vowed to “conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
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