Smollett Attack Was ‘Publicity Stunt,’ Top Cop Says

Jussie Smollett mug shot
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tells The Associated Press that Smollett turned himself in early Thursday at central booking. Source: Chicago Police Department
Jussie Smollett mug shot
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tells The Associated Press that Smollett turned himself in early Thursday at central booking. Source: Chicago Police Department

Smollett Attack Was ‘Publicity Stunt,’ Top Cop Says

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Empire actor Jussie Smollett staged a “publicity stunt” to promote his career and falsely claimed he was the victim of a hate-crime attack in Chicago, police Superintendent Eddie Johnson alleged Thursday.

Johnson blasted Smollett at a news conference, alleging the actor “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. 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?”

Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson says Smollett staged the attack out of dissatisfaction with his salary. @WBEZ

— Miles Bryan (@miles__bryan) February 21, 2019

Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told police he was attacked by two men who yelled racist and homophobic slurs, beat him and put a noose around his neck. He reported the attack occurred early in the morning on Jan. 29 as he was walking to his apartment building in the city’s Streeterville neighborhood.

But Johnson rejected that account, saying, “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

“Bogus police reports cause real harm,” Johnson added. “They do harm to every legitimate victim who’s in need of support of police and investigators, as well as the citizens of this city.”

Johnson ended the news conference by saying justice would be for the 36-year-old actor to apologize, admit what he did and “then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this.”

Smollett, who is accused of filing a false police report, was charged Wednesday with felony disorder conduct. He turned himself in at central booking early Thursday and is expected to appear in court later in the day. His lawyers say they will vigorously fight the charge.

The charge could bring up to three years in prison. It could also force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of the beating.

Johnson alleges that one of the reasons Smollett staged the attack was because he was unhappy about his salary.

Before the reported attack, Smollett also sent a threatening letter that targeted himself to the Fox studio in Chicago where “Empire” is filmed, Johnson said.

Johnson said investigators know that Smollett spoke to two brothers an hour before and an hour after they helped the actor stage the attack. Johnson said Smollett paid the brothers, who are black, $3,500 to help him. Police say the brothers participated for the money and are not considered suspects.

Authorities say their investigation into the attack took a new direction when the attorney for the two brothers who were initially viewed as suspects suggested that police question them and that the men were “victims,” not offenders.

Investigators say they used public and private surveillance footage to track the movements of the two brothers the night of the fake attack. Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said at the news conference that investigators were able to see the brothers flee and get into a cab, and police used camera footage to follow the cab to another part of the city.

Wodnicki said more surveillance footage showed the brothers at O’Hare International Airport, where they boarded a flight to Nigeria. Investigators determined the brothers had a roundtrip ticket and detained them for questioning when they returned to Chicago on Feb. 13.
Wodnicki said that after questioning the brothers for nearly two days last week, they were released and ruled out as suspects. Wodnicki said the brothers testified before a grand jury before prosecutors charged Smollett.

International focus has been on what did/didn’t happen in the #JussieSmollett case. But regardless of how it all went down, this case and the perceptions it gave rise to may have real-life consequences for LGBTQ people of color who may be victims of hate crimes. H/t @mizamudio.

— Odette Yousef (@oyousef) February 21, 2019

The brothers punched Smollett with gloves on during the staged attack, but investigators believe scratches and bruises on the actor’s face were likely self-inflicted, Johnson said. Investigators think Smollett had hoped that the fake attack would be captured by one of the city’s many security cameras, but that didn’t happen. Johnson said the camera at the location where the attack happened wasn’t pointed in that direction.

WBEZ producer Gabrielle Wright edited this report for Web.