Jussie Smollett rehearsed his own assault, say prosecutors
Empire actor, who police say also sent racist letter to himself, released from jail after posting bail
Aactor Jussie Smollett leaving Cook County Jail in Chicago after his release on Thursday. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA
Actor Jussie Smollett, upset by his salary and seeking publicity, rehearsed and staged a fake assault a week after writing himself a threatening letter, Chicago police said Thursday after the Empire star surrendered to face a felony charge of filing a false police report.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett had taken advantage of the pain and anger of racism, draining resources that could have been used to investigate other crimes for which people were actually suffering.
“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said, referring to the news media.
At an afternoon bail hearing, a judge set Smollett’s bond at $100,000 (€88,000), whcih he paid and was released from custody.
In the court proceedings, Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr said he found the police account of the incident disturbing, particularly the assertion that Smollett had used a rope around his neck to heighten outrage.
“If these allegations are true, I find them utterly outrageous,” the judge said. “Especially the violent, despicable use of a noose, which conjures such evil in our country.”
One of Smollett’s lawyers, Jack Prior, agreed that the police account was outrageous but said it also was not true.
Police say Smollett hired two brothers to carry out the assault and paid them $3,500 and that they have a copy of the cheque used to pay them. In a document prepared for the bail hearing, prosecutors said they had video of the brothers at the scene, text messages they shared with Smollett and their testimony as to how Smollett had recruited them for the plan. He even had them visit the scene of what investigators contend was the fake attack on an earlier night to prepare, prosecutors said.
Police declined to indicate why investigators now believe that Smollett had also played the chief role in mailing himself a threatening letter. The letter, which arrived a week before the reported assault, contained a white powder (crushed ibuprofen) and a sketch of what appeared to be a man being hanged and phrases, including “You will die.” The return address said “MAGA”, a reference to a slogan from Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
The actor, who surrendered Thursday morning, has insisted the attack occurred and that he has not done anything wrong.
At a news conference and the bail hearing, the police officials and prosecutors unveiled much of what they had uncovered about the reported attack.
Smollett (36), who is black and openly gay, had told police that at roughly 2 am January 29th, two masked men attacked him on the 300 block of Lower East North Water Street in downtown Chicago. He said his assailants directed homophobic and racial slurs at him, put a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him. Smollett said the assault occurred after he went to pick up food.
Smollett’s legal team said in a statement the court system had trampled “the presumption of innocence” in a “law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system”.
It said Smollett “feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing”.
Smollett, who plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show Empire, which is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry. – New York Times