Police: 'Empire' star Jussie Smollett allegedly staged 'stunt' because 'he was dissatisfied with his salary'

Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson said in a press conference on Thursday morning that Empire star Jussie Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “The stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary.”

The Empire star turned himself in to the Chicago Police Department on Thursday morning after he was charged with disorderly conduct for false report of offense.

“I only hope that the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention that the hoax did,” said Johnson, who added he was disheartened that hate crimes may be met with a higher level of scrutiny as a result of Smollett’s case.

“When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly it pissed everybody off,” he said.

Johnson added that Smollett “has to be accountable for what he did,” as he “is the one who orchestrated this crime.”

“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did and be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement on Smollett’s arrest on Thursday, saying, “A single individual who put their perceived self-interest ahead of these shared principles will never trump Chicago’s collective spirit.”

Prior to this dramatic twist, Fox — the Empire star’s home network — said on Feb. 20 that it was standing by the actor.

“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set, and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment told Yahoo. The statement was released in the wake of reports that the actor’s scenes were being drastically cut this week as production continued on the fifth season.

Deadline had reported on Feb. 19 that “upcoming episodes have seen serious rewrites in recent days to reduce the increasingly besieged Smollett’s role both in dramatic stints and musical performances.” At the time, there were apparently no plans to make changes to episodes already in the can. Empire returns on March 13.

On Feb. 18, TMZ cited law enforcement officials claiming they believe the actor may have rehearsed the attack with Abel and Ola Osundairo days before the incident, referring to the brothers police brought in for questioning last week.

On Feb. 16, the actor’s attorneys denied that he “played a role in his own attack.”

ABC News and CBS Chicago reported on Feb. 18 that sources alleged Smollett orchestrated the assault because he was upset that a threatening letter he received in January did not get enough attention. The FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service are currently investigating whether the actor played a role in sending that note, according to ABC News, an accusation apparently made by the Osundairo brothers. The letter is currently in the FBI crime lab for analysis, a source claimed.

Jussie Smollett at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th-anniversary opening night gala in November 2018. (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)
Jussie Smollett at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s 60th-anniversary opening night gala in November 2018. (Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

The narrative has dramatically changed since Jan. 29, when the Empire star’s reported attack first captured headlines. A look at the developments:

Jan. 22: Smollett received a threatening letter mailed to Chicago’s Cinespace Studios where his Fox show, Empire, is filmed. The note read, “You will die black f**” in cutout letters and had “MAGA” written on the envelope, referring to President Trump’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.” There was a white powder in the letter, which Chicago police later determined to be crushed-up Tylenol. When asked about the threat on GMA last week, Smollett said, “On the letter, it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing toward it.”

This note, which is being investigated by the FBI, was not made public until after the attack.

Jan. 29: TMZ reported that Smollett was jumped by two white men around 2 a.m. as he was leaving a Subway restaurant near his apartment. Chicago police confirmed they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime. The actor was purportedly beaten, a rope put around his neck and an “unknown chemical substance” poured on him, believed to be bleach.

“Overnight, the Chicago Police Department received a report of a possible racially charged assault and battery involving a cast member of the television show Empire,” police told Yahoo Entertainment. “Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime. Detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline.”

Chicago police added that the two unknown offenders approached Smollett “and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him. The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim.”

Authorities noted that Smollett was “fully cooperating with investigators” and that he transported himself to Northwestern University’s hospital and was listed in good condition.

TMZ’s initial report said the men yelled “This is MAGA country” after the attack; however, a Chicago Police Department spokesperson said “if it happened, it was not reported to police.” Smollett told authorities about the attackers yelling the MAGA line in a follow-up interview that Tuesday.

People flooded social media with outrage after the story made headlines, with everyone from Lee Daniels to Ariana Grande sending Smollett messages of support. Daniels even posted (then deleted) a screenshot from him FaceTiming with Smollett from the hospital. A cut was visible under the actor’s right eye.

Jan. 30: The Chicago Police Department released two images of “potential persons of interest” from surveillance video near where the attack occurred.

Smollett’s manager, Brandon Z. Moore, confirmed reports he was on the phone with his client when the attack occurred and heard some of what happened — like the MAGA line that was yelled.

Jan. 31: Doubt over Smollett’s story began to emerge after reports circulated that the actor refused the Chicago Police Department’s request for his phone and/or phone records to verify he was on the line with his manager at the time of the reported incident. Police confirmed that a request was made because of the financial relationship between the two men. They also released more details, revealing that authorities were called 30 to 40 minutes after the incident.

Still, Smollett had the majority of the public’s support on his side — even from Trump. “I can tell you that it’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse,” the president told reporters.

The actor’s family released a statement, condemning the attack as “domestic terrorism.”

“We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime. Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice,” the statement read.

Feb. 1: Smollett broke his silence. “Let me start by saying that I’m OK,” he began in a statement. “My body is strong but my soul is stronger. More importantly I want to say thank you. The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”

The actor added, “I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level. Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”

Smollett continued, “As my family stated, these types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender-conforming siblings daily. I am not and should not be looked upon as an isolated incident. We will talk soon and I will address all details of this horrific incident, but I need a moment to process. Most importantly, during times of trauma, grief and pain, there is still a responsibility to lead with love. It’s all I know. And that can’t be kicked out of me.”

Feb. 2: The actor and singer made his first public appearance since the alleged attack, performing at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. (The gig was booked prior to the incident.)

“I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to. And I’m gonna stand strong with y’all, and I had to be here tonight. It sounds powerful but I couldn’t let those mother f***ers win,” he told the crowd. “So, I will always stand for love. I will never stand for anything other than love. Regardless of what anyone says, I will only stand for love. And I hope that you will all stand with me.”

Feb. 5: A report from the Chicago Police Department confirmed many previously reported details and shed light on some new information. Smollett was apparently reluctant to report the attack but “believed it to be in the best interest to.” Smollett’s manager, who was identified as the person who called in the incident, apparently persuaded him to go to the police.

Officers noted they found Smollett at his home with a white rope still around his neck and stains on his clothes. He was sober. The actor was advised to go to the hospital, where he was treated for scrapes and bruises and released. The report also noted that Smollett showed police where the attack occurred.

Feb. 12: A spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department said detectives rejected cellphone records Smollett submitted via PDF one day prior because they were heavily redacted. They asked Smollett to submit his actual phone bill or a download of his entire phone.

A rep for Smollett reminded everyone the actor is “the victim here.”

“Jussie has voluntarily provided his phone records from within an hour of the attack and given multiple statements to police. Chicago PD has repeatedly informed us that they find Jussie’s account of what happened that night consistent and credible,” the rep told Entertainment Tonight. “Superintendent Johnson has been clear from day one that Jussie is a victim. We are continuing to work closely with the Chicago PD and remain confident that they will find Jussie’s attackers and bring them to justice. Any redacted information was intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.”

Feb. 13: Two men are detained in connection to the attack.

Feb. 14: Police confirmed they had identified two persons of interest; meanwhile Smollett’s emotional interview with Robin Roberts also aired on Good Morning America. It was his first public sit-down since the incident.

“I have to acknowledge the lies, and the hate,” he said, adding he was “pissed off” some people didn’t believe him. “And it feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more. A lot more. And that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now.”

The actor acknowledged why he was reluctant to turn over his phone to police. “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I’m sorry but — I’m not gonna do that,” he said. “Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner’s number, my family’s number, my castmate’s number, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos.”

Smollett was also adamant the two “persons of interest” captured on surveillance were his attackers.

Meanwhile, local reports began citing law enforcement officials who claimed investigators believed the attack may have been staged. Chicago police went on the record saying reports about the incident “being a hoax are unconfirmed.”

One of the reports from ABC7 alleged Smollett staged the attack because he was being written off Empire, a theory Fox called “ridiculous.”

CBS Chicago reported that police raided the home of the two persons of interest in the case the night prior. The outlet noted the men are brothers of Nigerian descent who appeared as extras on Empire and that they both know Smollett.

Feb. 15: Police released the two men they had picked up for questioning. “Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” according to a statement from the Chicago Police.

Outlets identified the men as Olabinjo Osundairo (nicknamed Ola) and Abimbola Osundairo (nicknamed Abel). The brothers’ lawyer confirmed they knew Smollett from working on Empire and working out with him at their gym but denied any involvement in the reported attack on the actor.

Feb. 16: The Osundairo brothers agreed to fully cooperate with police after detectives purportedly confronted them with evidence that they bought the rope used in the alleged assault. ABC News was one of many outlets to report that police were shifting the investigation to determine whether Smollett made up the attack.

The actor’s attorneys hit back at such a suggestion and expressed doubt that the brothers were even part of the attack.

“As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” the statement began. “He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.

“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement continued. “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”

Police announced they intend to question the actor again. “We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” a spokesperson said. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”

Feb. 17: Authorities don’t do much to squash the mounting reports (all citing law enforcement sources) that claim investigators believe Smollett was involved in his own attack.

“While we are not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what’s been unofficially released, there are some developments in this investigation and detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

Feb. 18: TMZ reported Chicago police believe the actor may have rehearsed the attack with Abel and Ola Osundairo days before the incident. According to TMZ, the Osundairo brothers allegedly told police officers that they scouted a location with Smollett for the attack, which the actor wanted to make a “physical thing” but not so extreme that he’d be seriously injured. They purportedly chose a place near the actor’s apartment thinking the attack would be caught on camera. (It wasn’t, as the camera was pointed in the wrong direction.)

In a statement to Chicago’s CBS 2, the brothers said, “We are not racist. We are not homophobic and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”

Sources inside the Chicago Police Department floated a possible motive as to why Smollett may have staged an assault. CBS 2 cited multiple sources saying Smollett paid two men to carry out the assault because he was upset that a threatening letter sent to Fox studios in January didn’t get a “bigger reaction.” An insider reportedly said, “When the letter didn’t get enough attention, he concocted the staged attack.”

ABC News reported the Osundairo brothers told authorities they helped Smollett orchestrate the attack after the actor became upset that the note threatening his life did not get enough attention.

Prior to these reports, Smollett’s lawyers, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, issued a statement that their client would not be meeting with police on Feb. 18, but that they “will keep an active dialogue going with the Chicago Police on his behalf. We have no further comment today.”

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