Chicago, IL – Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters on Thursday morning that “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett sent himself threatening letters and staged an attack on himself because he didn’t think he was getting paid enough for his role in the TV show.
Smollett, 36, turned himself in at the Chicago Police Department’s 1st District at 5 a.m. on Feb. 21, to face felony disorderly conduct charges for filing a false police report.
The actor will appear in front of the bond court judge at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.
“First, Smollett attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic, and political language. When that didn’t work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” Superintendent Johnson said. “And why? The stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked.”
The superintendent said that Smollett lied when he told police he was jumped by two masked men as he was walking home from a Subway restaurant in his Streeterville neighborhood in the early hours of Jan. 29.
He said the men beat him, and hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him.
Smollett told police that the men threw an unknown substance on him and put a noose around his neck before they ran off.
His manager told police that he was on the phone with his client at the time of the attack and heard Smollett’s attackers say “This is MAGA country” while they were assaulting the actor, NBC News reported.
Superintendent Johnson called the actor’s hoax bad for the city.
“But to put the national spotlight on Chicago for something that is both egregious and untrue is simply shameful. I’m also concerned about what this means moving forward for hate crimes,” he said. “Police will investigate with same amount of vigor, but the public will now look with skepticism they didn’t have before.”
The city’s top cop said that he had lived in Chicago all of his life and was very familiar with the racial divides that existed. He also said he knows how hard the city has worked to come together.
“This announcement today recognizes that ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I’m left hanging my head asking why,” Superintendent Johnson said. “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? How can an individual who has been embraced by the City of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”
“Bogus police reports cause real harm – they do harm to every legitimate victim who is need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of this city,” the superintendent continued.
“Chicago hosts one of the largest PRIDE parades in the world and we’re proud of that as a police department and also as a city. We do not, nor will we ever, tolerate hate in this city. Whether that hate is based on an individual’s sexual orientation, race, or anything else. So I’m offended by what’s happened, and I’m also angry,” he told reporters.
“I love the City of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, warts and all. But this publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve. To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks. Celebrities, news commentators, and even Presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor,” the superintendent pointed out.
“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention, because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’ve given this particular incident,” Superintendent Johnson said.
He also offered what some interpreted as a challenge to the media.
“I only hope that the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention that the hoax did,” the police superintendent told reporters.
Superintendent Johnson explained that police considered Smollett a victim up until Ola and Abel Osundairo returned to Chicago and were taken into police custody, and then the investigation “spun in a totally different direction.”
“We gave him the benefit of the doubt up until that 47th hour. But when we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off,” he explained.
He said the brothers told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, with another $500 after they returned from a planned trip to Nigeria.
“We have the check that he used to pay them,” Superintendent Johnson said.
He said police have obtained phone records that “clearly indicate” Smollett and the Osundairo brothers talked to each other quite a bit before and after the staged attack, as well as while the brothers were out of the country.
Superintendent Johnson also said that Smollett had beaten himself up before he went to the hospital.
“The brothers had on gloves during the staged attacked where they punched him a little bit. But as far as we can tell, the scratches and bruising that you saw on his face was most likely self-inflicted,” the superintendent explained.
He said that he believed the actor wanted the faked attack caught on camera, but the particular camera he chose to perform in front of wasn’t pointed the right direction.
Superintendent Johnson said that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s decision to recuse herself from the Smollett case didn’t cause any delays or impact the case in any way.
“This isn’t TV, it’s real life. And that takes time,” he said.
The superintendent said chasing down bogus leads “put out in the universe” by the media wasted a lot of the police’s time during the investigation.
He said detectives interviewed more than 100 people, and located 35 police surveillance cameras and 20 private-sector security cameras along the route the Smollett claimed he took the night of the attack.
“These detectives deserve all the credit in the world for carefully analyzing the leads and evidence for weeks before coming to their conclusion,” Superintendent Johnson said.
The superintendent said that police and prosecutors were ready to take the Osundairo brothers before the grand jury on Tuesday to “lock in” their story, but Smollett’s attorneys had called and claimed they had new evidence to share with the police.
The testimony was delayed but the lawyers for Smollett gave investigators nothing new, so the Osundairo brothers went before the grand jury on Wednesday afternoon, at about the same time the Chicago police announced the actor was considered a suspect in a criminal investigation.
Immediately after they finished their testimony, the state’s attorney’s office authorized criminal charges against Smollett, Superintendent Johnson said.
He said the Osundairo brothers were not facing any charges for the incident.
“Mr. Smollett is the one that orchestrated this crime,” the superintendent explained. “They became cooperating witnesses in the 47th hour of their 48-hour hold time. So now they are witnesses to what he did so he has to be accountable for what he did. He orchestrated this.”
He said Smollett’s manager was not considered a suspect and that police did not know if he had knowledge of the actor’s ruse.
Sources said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Postal Inspector were investigating whether Smollett had sent himself the threatening letter he received at the television studio a week before the staged attack.
Superintendent Johnson confirmed that the FBI was still investigating the letter and said it was not part of the Chicago police investigation.
He said he did not know whether Smollett would be held accountable for the financial resources burned by the city for the investigation of the hoax, and called that “a conversation for another day.”
“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared. Admitting what he did. And then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were used,” the superintendent told reporters.