Chicago’s police chief said “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett sent himself a threatening letter and concocted a fake attack because he was unhappy with his salary.
“‘Empire’ actor Jussie took advantage of the pain and racism to promote his own career. I am left hanging my head and asking why? Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” Eddie Johnson, the superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, said in a news conference Thursday.
Johnson said Smollett paid two brothers $3,500 after the threatening letter did not get enough attention, and staged the attack. He paid the brothers another $500 after the attack, police said.
Chicago Police Superintendent: "To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks."— Washington Examiner (@dcexaminer) February 21, 2019
"Celebrities, news commentators, and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor." pic.twitter.com/fir6b0uKCL
Smollett was arrested early Thursday morning on suspicion of filing a false report about a hate crime.
He faces a felony charge of disorderly conduct after he filed a police report claiming he was attacked by two men Jan. 29 in Chicago. Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed the men yelled racist and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on him.
The two men, brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, were taken into custody and questioned by police about the alleged attack. Johnson said the brothers told police Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with his salary. Johnson also said the brothers participated in Smollett's scheme because they were offered money.
The actor had bruises and scratches on his face when he was interviewed by police after reporting the alleged attack. Johnson said Smollett’s injuries were likely self-inflicted.
Filing a false police report is punishable by up to three years in prison under Illinois law.
“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did, and then being man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this," Johnson said.
Smollett has stood by his allegations that he was attacked three weeks ago.
"Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked," his lawyers said in a statement. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."
Edward Wodnicki, a detective commander at the police department, said law enforcement interviewed more than 100 individuals and viewed footage from more than 50 cameras in the investigation.
“I continue to pray for this troubled young man, who resorted to both drastic and illegal tactics to gain attention,” Johnson said.
A bond hearing has been set for Smollett at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time.