Prose­cu­tor: Ac­tor staged fake racist at­tack in de­tail

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY DON BABWIN


As au­thor­i­ties laid out their case against “Em­pire” ac­tor Jussie Smol­lett, the nar­ra­tive that emerged Thurs­day sounded like that of a film­maker who wrote, cast, di­rected and starred in a short movie.

Prose­cu­tors said Smol­lett gave de­tailed in­struc­tions to the ac­com­plices who helped him stage a racist, anti-gay at­tack on him­self, in­clud­ing telling them spe­cific slurs to yell, urg­ing them to shout “MAGA coun­try” and even point­ing out a sur­veil­lance cam­era that he thought would record the beat­ing.

“I be­lieve Mr. Smol­lett wanted it on cam­era,” Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent Ed­die Johnson told re­porters. “But un­for­tu­nately that par­tic­u­lar cam­era wasn’t pointed in that di­rec­tion.”

Po­lice said Smol­lett planned the hoax be­cause he was un­happy with his salary and wanted to pro­mote his ca­reer. Be­fore the at­tack, he also sent a let­ter that threatened him to the Chicago stu­dio where “Em­pire” is shot, po­lice said.

Smol­lett, who is black and gay, turned him­self in on charges that he filed a false po­lice re­port last month when he said he was at­tacked in down­town Chicago by two masked men who hurled deroga­tory re­marks and looped a rope around his neck.

The ac­tor “took ad­van­tage of the pain and anger of racism to pro­mote his ca­reer,” po­lice, Johnson said.

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

The at­tack re­ver­ber­ated well be­yond Chicago and swiftly took on po­lit­i­cal over­tones, with lib­er­als call­ing it a shock-

ing ex­am­ple of Trump-era hate. Repub­li­cans seized on the crim­i­nal charges as proof that Democrats had rushed to judg­ment and un­fairly dis­par­aged the pres­i­dent’s sup­port­ers as big­ots.

At Smol­lett’s first court ap­pear­ance, one of his at­tor­neys, Jack Prior, told the judge that the ac­tor main­tains “these are out­ra­geous al­le­ga­tions” and de­nies they are true.

Prose­cu­tors re­leased a four-page doc­u­ment that out­lined their case against 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.

For the al­leged hoax, Smol­lett so­licited the help of two mus­cu­lar broth­ers. One of them was Abindola “Abel” Osundairo, a friend he worked out with and who worked on the show as a stand-in for an­other char­ac­ter. He also sup­plied Smol­lett with the drug ec­stasy, prose­cu­tors said.

“He prob­a­bly knew he needed some­body with bulk,” Johnson said of Smol­lett’s de­ci­sion to hire the pair.

A few days be­fore Osundairo and his brother, Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were sched­uled to fly to Nige­ria, Smol­lett sent him a text that prose­cu­tors said set the scheme in mo­tion.

“Might need your help on the low,” he wrote his friend, ac­cord­ing to the doc­u­ment.

Dur­ing a meet­ing with the broth­ers, Smol­lett told them he wanted the at­tack to hap­pen Jan. 28 near his apart­ment in the city’s Streeter­ville neigh­bor­hood, and that he wanted them to get his at­ten­tion by call­ing out slurs, prose­cu­tors said. He is ac­cused of in­struct­ing them to put the rope around his neck, pour gaso­line on him and yell the MAGA re­mark, an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s slo­gan dur­ing the 2016 cam­paign.

Smol­lett then gave one of the broth­ers $100 to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red base­ball caps that re­sem­ble those worn by Trump sup­port­ers, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors. He drove them to the spot where he wanted the at­tack to take place, tak­ing time to show them the cam­era that he said would cap­ture it.

He drove them home, wrote a check to one of the broth­ers for $3,500 and flew to New York, prose­cu­tors said.

The time of the “at­tack” was pushed back to 2 a.m. Jan 29 be­cause Smol­lett’s re­turn flight was de­layed. The broth­ers or­dered an Uber ride to pick them up at their apart­ment and climbed into the ve­hi­cle tot­ing their sup­plies, in­clud­ing bleach be­cause there was a de­ci­sion to use that in­stead of gaso­line, ac­cord­ing to prose­cu­tors’ sum­mary.

Po­lice know much of this, they said, be­cause Chicago has one of the world’s most ex­ten­sive video sur­veil­lance systems. In­ves­ti­ga­tors, in effect, pieced to­gether the route the two men took by cab and foot to and from the scene, Johnson said.

The en­counter lasted about 45 sec­onds. The broth­ers, Johnson said, “punched him a lit­tle bit,” but the scratches and bruises that Smol­lett had on his face were “most likely self-in­flicted.”

When po­lice ar­rived, he told them what hap­pened and pointed out the nearby sur­veil­lance cam­era, prose­cu­tors said at the court hear­ing.

Smol­lett also tried to mis­lead po­lice about the sus­pects, telling them that the area around one at­tacker’s eyes was white skinned, even though the broth­ers are black, prose­cu­tors said.

Johnson said Smol­lett used the one of the most ter­ri­fy­ing sym­bols of racial ha­tred – a noose – that is syn­ony­mous with lynch­ings.

“I’m of­fended by what hap­pened and I’m also an­gry,” he said.

By the time Smol­lett ap­peared on “Good Morn­ing Amer­ica” on Feb. 14, po­lice al­ready had a pretty good idea that he was ly­ing, thanks to dozens of search war­rants, sub­poe­nas and ex­ten­sive anal­y­sis of cam­era and phone records. They also knew the names of the broth­ers, and the fact that they had flown to Nige­ria and were sched­uled to re­turn to Chicago on Feb. 13.

The men were ar­rested and ques­tioned for hours. At hour 47 – one hour be­fore po­lice had to ei­ther charge the men or re­lease them – Johnson said the two con­fessed to what they had done. They were sub­se­quently re­leased with­out be­ing charged.

Prose­cu­tors charged Smol­lett late Wed­nes­day with felony dis­or­derly con­duct – the charge that is used for fil­ing a false po­lice re­port. He turned him­self in to po­lice Thurs­day and was jailed un­til an af­ter­noon court ap­pear­ance.

Smol­lett’s at­tor­neys asked that the ac­tor be freed on his own re­cog­ni­zance, but Cook County Judge John Fitzger­ald Lyke Jr. re­jected that idea. Lyke, who is also black, said he was both­ered by the al­le­ga­tions in­volv­ing the noose.

“The most vile and de­spi­ca­ble part of it, if it’s true, is the noose,” he said. “That sym­bol con­jures up such evil in this coun­try’s his­tory.”

The judge set Smol­lett’s bond at $100,000, and the ac­tor soon walked out of jail after post­ing the nec­es­sary $10,000. He de­clined to com­ment to re­porters.

Smol­lett is earn­ing more than $100,000 per episode, ac­cord­ing to a per­son fa­mil­iar with the sit­u­a­tion. The per­son spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity be­cause salary de­tails were in­volved. The stu­dio de­clined to com­ment on the ac­tor’s salary.

As is cus­tom­ary with a suc­cess­ful TV series, reg­u­lar cast mem­bers on “Em­pire” re­ceived a boost in pay as part of con­tract ex­ten­sions that fol­lowed the drama’s re­newal for a sec­ond sea­son, the per­son said.

Smol­lett is counted among the series reg­u­lars.

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.”

Smol­lett has been ac­tive in LBGTQ is­sues, and ini­tial re­ports of the as­sault drew out­rage and sup­port for him on so­cial me­dia. Re­fer­ring to a pub­lished ac­count of the at­tack, Trump said last month that “it doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m con­cerned.”

Re­fer­ring to a pub­lished ac­count of the at­tack, Trump said last month that “it doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m con­cerned.” On Thurs­day, he tweeted to Smol­lett: “What about MAGA and the tens of mil­lions of peo­ple you in­sulted with your racist and dan­ger­ous com­ments!? #MAGA.”

Jussie Smol­lett


De­tec­tive Com­man­der Ed­ward Wod­nicki, right, of the Chicago Po­lice Depart­ment, gives a time­line of the Smol­lett case as Chicago Po­lice Su­per­in­ten­dent Ed­die Johnson, left, lis­tens, Thurs­day, after ac­tor Jussie Smol­lett turned him­self in.

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