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