Police: ‘Empire’ actor staged attack to ‘promote his career’
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 last 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 on Feb. 21 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. He was expected to appear in court later in the day.
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.
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 on Feb. 20 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 two brothers they had taken into custody for questioning last week 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.
When it came time to stage the attack, Johnson said, Smollett chose a spot that he believed would be captured by one of Chicago’s many security cameras. But “that particular camera wasn’t pointed in that direction,” Johnson said.
The brothers, who are not considered suspects, wore gloves during the staged attack and “punched him a little bit,” Johnson said. The scratches and bruising Smollett had on his face were “most likely self-inflicted,” Johnson said.
Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson (fourth from left) answers questions after actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in on charges of filing a false police report.