Chicago police said Thursday that the alleged attack on Empire actor Jussie Smollett was actually a “publicity stunt” devised by the actor because he was dissatisfied with his salary.
Calling Smollett a “troubled young man,” authorities condemned the TV star for wasting police resources.
“This announcement today recognizes that Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said during a press conference. “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?” he continued. “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 alleged that Smollett began his deception when he sent a “false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language” to the Empire set.
But when that didn’t get enough of a reaction, he added, “Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process.”
“And why? The stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked,” Johnson added.
The Huffington Post reports that Smollett was paid $65,000 per episode of Empire—which on average runs 18 episodes each season.
During the press conference, Johnson condemned Smollett for wasting valuable police resources on the case. The department reportedly interviewed more than 100 people, and detectives spent hours combing through surveillance footage to piece together a timeline of the alleged attack and track suspects—time that could have been spent solving real crimes. Johnson noted, however, that the department didn’t pull any detectives from ongoing homicide and shooting cases to investigate Smollett’s report.
“Bogus police reports cause real harm,” he said. “I’m offended by what’s happened and I’m also angry.”
20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment released a statement soon after the press conference. Although the network stood by Smollett throughout the investigation, it said Thursday that “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
The bombshell allegations came just hours after Smollett was arrested and placed in custody. He was charged with felony disorderly conduct Wednesday evening for allegedly filing a false police report.
Tom Ahern, deputy communications director at CPD, added that Smollett was facing a class-four felony charge—punishable by as much as three years in prison—for “disorderly conduct in falsifying police report.”
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” his lawyers said in a statement after he was arrested. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
At a Thursday afternoon hearing, Smollett’s passport was confiscated and his bond was set at $100,000.
Smollett’s arrest signals that the case is finally coming to a close. The controversy first began on Jan. 29, when Smollett alleged that he was attacked by two men who screamed racial and homophobic slurs before beating him, pouring bleach on him, and placing a noose around his neck.
Days after the alleged attack, police tracked down the two Nigerian brothers Smollett allegedly paid, Ola and Abel Osundairo. During the bond hearing, prosecutors said that Abel was a close friend of Smollett’s and was a stand-in for his love interest on the show. Texts between the pair reportedly show that he also gave Smollett cocaine.
The Osundairos flew to Nigeria immediately after the attack, but were apprehended after returning to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on February 13.
When they were questioned, the brothers reportedly told police that they had been paid to stage the attack—and that Smollett even reimbursed them for the rope.
Prosecutors provided a more extensive report on the alleged planning during the Thursday hearing. On Jan. 25, Smollett and the brothers allegedly plotted the fake attack in the actor’s car, Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier said.
“Smollett also stated that he wanted the brothers to catch his attention by calling him an ‘Empire F—- Empire N—-,” Lanier added. “Smollett further directed Abel to attack him, but not hurt him too badly and give a chance to appear to fight back. Defendant Smollett also said he wanted Ola to place a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell, ‘This is MAGA country.” They eventually decided to use bleach instead.
On Jan. 27, Smollett allegedly drove the brothers to the area where he planned to stage the assault. He told them not to bring their cell phones, gave them $100 to buy supplies, and wrote Abel a $3,500 check, prosecutors said.
During the press conference, Johnson alleged that the small cuts and bruises on Smollett’s face—initially thought to be from the attack—were likely self-inflicted, and that the brothers only hit him a “little bit.”
In the days following the attack, Smollett launched into a sweeping condemnation of racism and homophobia, appearing on Good Morning America to claim that he was “forever changed” by the incident.
“It’s unbelievable to me that anything of this has come to this,” he said at the time. “That every single thing that I have done, every single thing that I have cooperated with, somehow has gotten twisted into being some bull that it’s not.”
Johnson specifically addressed Smollett’s GMA interview near the end of his address. Although he acknowledged that he hadn’t seen the whole interview, he decried parts of it as “shameful,” adding, “It painted this city we all love and work hard in with a negative light.”
“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared,” he added, “admitting what he did and then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of resources put into this.”