Po­lice: ‘Em­pire’ ac­tor staged at­tack to ‘pro­mote his ca­reer’

The Standard Journal - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Don Bab­win

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.

/ Ash­lee Rezin/Chicago Sun-Times via AP

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.

Smol­lett

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