Actor wanted career boost
CHICAGO — “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett staged a racist, anti-gay attack on himself because he was unhappy about his salary and wanted to promote his career, Chicago’s police superintendent said Thursday.
Before the attack, Smollett also sent a letter that threatened him to the studio in Chicago where “Empire” is shot, Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
Smollett, who is black and gay, turned himself in Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report last month when he told authorities he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said.
The actor “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference.
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” he added.
Prosecutors said Smollett gave detailed instructions to two brothers who helped him stage the attack, including giving them specific slurs to yell and telling them to shout “MAGA country” and to drape a rope around his neck.
Smollett even pointed out to the men a specific surveillance camera that he thought would capture footage of the beating, Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier told a news conference. Police say the camera was pointed another way.
At Smollett’s first court appearance, a judge set bond at $100,000, meaning that he must post $10,000 to be released. Smollett’s attorneys asked for him to be released on his own recognizance, but the judge, who is also black, said that was inappropriate and that he was particularly bothered by the allegations involving the noose Smollett’s neck.
Smollett said little during the hearing, except to state his name. He was joined in the courtroom by family members.
The FBI has been investigating the letter. Johnson would not say whether Smollett could face additional charges for that.
The companies that make “Empire,” Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, issued a statement Thursday saying that they were “evaluating the situation” and “considering our options.”
In less than a month, Smollett went from being the seemingly sympathetic victim of a hate crime to being accused of fabricating the entire thing. The 36-year-old was charged Wednesday with felony disorderly conduct, a charge that could bring up to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a Jan. 29 beating.
Police treated Smollett as a victim until the two brothers , who had been taken into custody for questioning, admitted to helping him stage the attack, Johnson said.
It was the brothers who also explained Smollett’s motive to detectives. Authorities have a check for $3,500 that Smollett paid the brothers, he said.
Smollett, who plays a gay character on the show that follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry, said he was attacked as he was walking home 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 President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again” — before fleeing.
In describing what police believe actually happened, Johnson made it sound as if Smollett was casting and directing a short movie.
“He probably knew he needed somebody with bulk,” he said of Smollett’s decision to hire the two muscular brothers. Police have said at least one of the brothers worked on “Empire,” and Smollett’s attorneys said one of the men is the actor’s personal trainer.