Former ‘Em­pire’ star Jussie Smol­lett’s im­age takes new hit with re­vived charges

Times-Herald (Vallejo) - - NEWS - By Tammy Web­ber Check out more of the AP’s cov­er­age of the Smol­lett case. Fol­low Tammy Web­ber on Twit­ter: https://twit­ter. com/tweb­ber02

CHICAGO >> He’s dis­ap­peared from Twit­ter, his last In­sta­gram post was eight months ago, and his act­ing and singing ca­reers ap­pear to be at a stand­still.

Former “Em­pire” ac­tor Jussie Smol­lett has all but van­ished from pub­lic view in the year since Chicago de­tec­tives ac­cused him of pay­ing two broth­ers to stage a racist and anti-gay at­tack on him be­cause he was un­happy with his salary and wanted to pro­mote his ca­reer.

But Smol­lett was thrust back into the spot­light on Tues­day af­ter a grand jury in­dicted him for a sec­ond time on charges of ly­ing to the po­lice, in a case that drew world­wide at­ten­tion.

David E. John­son, the CEO and founder of Strate­gic Vi­sion PR Group, an At­lanta-area pub­lic re­la­tions firm that has no ties to the case, said the new charges couldn’t be worse news for Smol­lett if he had any hopes of re­viv­ing his ca­reer.

“It brings every­thing back,” said John­son. “No­body was re­ally talk­ing about it . ... Now, un­less he’s ac­quit­ted and to­tally vin­di­cated, this is the end of his ca­reer.”

“Even peo­ple who were giv­ing him the ben­e­fit of the doubt for so long” would not be able to de­fend him, John­son said.

But Eric Rose, a part­ner in the pub­lic re­la­tions firm Eng­lan­der Kn­abe & Allen, said that how the ac­tor re­sponds to the lat­est charges could de­ter­mine whether he can even­tu­ally re­vive his ca­reer.

“The pub­lic is ex­tremely for­giv­ing and al­lows peo­ple to make mis­takes, but you have to own up to your mis­takes and apol­o­gize in sin­cere fash­ion, and he has done none of that,” said Rose, who spe­cial­izes in rep­u­ta­tion man­age­ment and cri­sis com­mu­ni­ca­tions. He said he doesn’t be­lieve Smol­lett’s claims of in­no­cence.

Smol­lett, who is black and gay, orig­i­nally was charged with dis­or­derly

Em­pire ac­tor Jussie Smol­lett ar­rives at the Leighton Crim­i­nal Court Build­ing for his hear­ing in Chicago. Smol­lett faces new charges for re­port­ing an at­tack that Chicago au­thor­i­ties con­tend was staged to gar­ner pub­lic­ity, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports Tues­day, Feb. 11, 2020. The charges in­clude dis­or­derly con­duct counts, ac­cord­ing to the re­ports that cite uniden­ti­fied sources.

con­duct in Fe­bru­ary 2019 for al­legedly stag­ing the at­tack and then ly­ing about it to in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

His story — he said two men beat him up, shouted racist and anti-gay slurs, threw bleach on him and put a noose around his neck — fell apart when broth­ers Abim­bola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who were body­builders and as­pir­ing ac­tors whom Smol­lett knew from the “Em­pire” set and the gym, told po­lice the ac­tor had paid them $3,500 to stage the at­tack.

Even so, the charges were abruptly dropped last March with lit­tle ex­pla­na­tion, an­ger­ing po­lice of­fi­cials and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, and lead­ing to the ap­point­ment of a spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor to re­view the de­ci­sion.

Spe­cial Pros­e­cu­tor Dan Webb said in a state­ment Tues­day that Smol­lett faces six felony counts of dis­or­derly con­duct stem­ming from four sep­a­rate false re­ports that he gave to po­lice.

Smol­lett, who has main­tained his in­no­cence, has spent the past year in le­gal fights with the city of Chicago, which sued him

in an at­tempt to re­cover more than $130,000 in over­time that was paid to of­fi­cers in­volved in in­ves­ti­gat­ing Smol­lett’s re­port. Smol­lett’s at­tor­neys have said the city should not be al­lowed to re­cover costs from Smol­lett be­cause it ac­cepted $10,000 from the ac­tor “as pay­ment in full in con­nec­tion with the dis­missal of the charges against him.”

He sued the city last fall for ma­li­cious pros­e­cu­tion, and the case is still pend­ing.

Smol­lett faced a fierce on­line back­lash af­ter he was charged last year, but he also prob­a­bly has been avoid­ing so­cial me­dia on the ad­vice of his at­tor­neys, “be­cause ev­ery word he says will be an­a­lyzed and could be used against him,” said Rose.

In re­sponse to the new charges, Smol­lett’s at­tor­neys said in a state­ment that Webb “has not found any ev­i­dence of wrong­do­ing what­so­ever” with the dis­missal of the orig­i­nal charges and that they be­lieve the new ones are po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated.

Smol­lett is sched­uled to ap­pear in court for ar­raign­ment on Feb. 24.

The former child star grew up to be­come a cham­pion of LGBT rights and one of the few ac­tors to play a black gay char­ac­ter on prime­time TV.

On “Em­pire,” he played Ja­mal Lyon, a tal­ented R&B singer strug­gling to earn his fa­ther’s ap­proval and find his place in his dad’s mu­sic em­pire, and the role was his break­through. It be­came one of the big­gest net­work shows to star a gay black char­ac­ter, and his work earned Emmy and Grammy nom­i­na­tions.

Smol­lett, who is also a mu­si­cian and who re­leased an R&B al­bum, was in­ter­ested in so­cial justice causes. He joined The Hu­man Rights Cam­paign’s Equal­ity Rocks cam­paign, and his mu­sic videos ex­plored is­sues such as LGBT rights and re­li­gious and racial prej­u­dices.

A month be­fore he re­ported the al­leged at­tack, he trav­eled to Flint, Michi­gan, to de­liver coats and school sup­plies to kids.

WEST PALM BEACH, FLA. >> A Florida jury ac­quit­ted a Chi­nese woman Wed­nes­day of tres­pass­ing at Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago re­sort af­ter she tes­ti­fied she didn’t un­der­stand a se­cu­rity guard who told her to leave.

How­ever, jurors did find Jing Lu, 56, guilty of re­sist­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer without vi­o­lence dur­ing her Dec. 18 ar­rest. The in­ci­dent marked the sec­ond time in 2019 that a Chi­nese na­tional was charged with il­lic­itly en­ter­ing Trump’s Florida re­sort.

Pros­e­cu­tors told jurors that Lu pur­posely in­truded in a “cal­cu­lated” and “planned” man­ner. She has been in cus­tody since her ar­rest be­cause her visa to re­main in the United States has ex­pired.

Pros­e­cu­tors said she ig­nored a warn­ing to leave the grounds and re­turned through a side en­trance and con­tin­ued tak­ing pic­tures. Mar-a-Lago is now Trump’s of­fi­cial res­i­dence, mov­ing there from New York City last year, but he was not in Florida when Lu was ar­rested.

Lu, tes­ti­fy­ing through a Man­darin in­ter­preter, said she paid $200 for a Chi­nese guide to drop her off at var­i­ous South Florida lo­ca­tions. She said her lan­guage bar­rier pre­vented her from un­der­stand­ing a se­cu­rity of­fi­cer’s or­ders to leave the prop­erty.

Se­cu­rity guard Mur­ray Ful­ton told jurors he used hand ges­tures to make his warn­ings clear to her.

Lu’s tour guide then took her to Palm Beach’s Worth Av­enue shop­ping district, where she was stopped by two Palm Beach po­lice of­fi­cers. They tes­ti­fied that she wouldn’t con­sent to be­ing ques­tioned and re­sisted when they tried to hand­cuff her.

Lu tes­ti­fied that she was scared when the of­fi­cers ap­proached her, adding that she didn’t know why she was be­ing hand­cuffed.

Palm Beach County Judge Mark Eis­sey set Lu’s sen­tenc­ing for Fri­day. She faces up to one year in jail on the mis­de­meanor charge.

Mar-a-Lago has had a rash of se­cu­rity breaches, with at least three tres­pass­ing events over the past 14 months, two of them in­volv­ing Chi­nese na­tion­als.

Last March, Yu­jing Zhang, a 33-yearold Shang­hai busi­ness­woman, gained ac­cess to Mar-a-Lago by telling Se­cret Ser­vice agents she was there to swim. Club staff then con­fused her for a mem­ber’s daugh­ter and ad­mit­ted her be­fore she was stopped in the lobby by a sus­pi­cious clerk who alerted other agents.

Zhang was car­ry­ing a lap­top, phones and other elec­tronic gear, which led to ini­tial spec­u­la­tion that she might be a spy, but she was never charged with es­pi­onage and text mes­sages she ex­changed with a trip or­ga­nizer in­di­cated she was a fan of the pres­i­dent and wanted to meet him or his fam­ily to dis­cuss pos­si­ble deals.

Zhang was found guilty in Septem­ber of tres­pass­ing and ly­ing to Se­cret Ser­vice agents. She was sen­tenced in Novem­ber to time served and or­dered de­ported.

MATT MARTON — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

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