'Empire' Actor Jussie Smollett Turns Himself In, Charged With Felony Disorderly Conduct

Supt. Johnson said Smollett actions were due to him being dissatisfied with his salary.

February 20, 2019 - 4:25 pm
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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in early Thursday to Chicago police, after being charged Wednesday night with disorderly conduct following an investigation into his claims he was beaten last month by two men who yelled racial and anti-gay slurs.

Smollett turned himself in at the Central District police station at 18th and State streets around 5 a.m., police said. According to police, Smollett was arrested, and then transferred from police lockup to the Leighton Criminal Courthouse later Thursday morning. 

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Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Area Central Detectives held a Thursday morning news conference, where he said Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career" by falsely reporting an aggravated battery. 

Johnson said he is left wondering why. 

"Why would anyone, especially an African American man use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?

"How could an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago, turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims? Bogus police reports, cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who is need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of the city," Johnson said.

WBBM Newsradio/Mike Krauser

Johnson continued by stating that Chicago will never tolerate hate. 

"We do not, nor will we ever tolerate hate in our city. Whether that hate is based on an individual's sexual orientation, race, or anything else," Johnson said. "I am offended by what's happened and I am also angry. I love the city of Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, warts and all; but this publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago did not earn and certainly did not deserve. To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks. Celebrities, news commentators, and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor." 

Mayor Emanuel released a statement following the arrest of Jussie Smollett, that agrees with Johnson on tolerating hate in Chicago. It read:

"I want to thank all of the Chicago police officers who have worked on this case, and all of the private citizens and business owners who have stepped forward with information and video evidence to help us get to the bottom of what was reported as a hate crime.

"All across Chicago, in every neighborhood, there are signs in front yards and in windows that read, 'Hate Has No Home Here.' It is a sign that expresses our shared values and defines our great city. Chicago's message to the world is that no matter where you come from, who you love, or how you pray you will always have a home here. Our laws exist to reflect and defend those values, and hate crimes will never be tolerated. A single individual who put their perceived self-interest ahead of these shared principles will never trump Chicago's collective spirit."

Johnson also said Smollett sent a racist and homophobic threatening letter to the Fox studio lot where he works in Chicago before the attack. He said Smollett staged the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary and wanted to promote his career. The FBI has been investigating that letter, Johnson would not say whether Smollett could face charges for that.

Superintendent Johnson voiced his concern on what this action means for moving forward with hate crimes. 

"My concern is now hate crimes will be publicly met with a level of skepticism that previously did not happen," he said.

The Cook County State's Attorney's Office confirmed Wednesday evening that Smollett was charged with the Class 4 felony and is expected to appear in bond court Thursday afternoon at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse. Earlier Wednesday, Chicago police tweeted that Smollett was now considered a suspect in an investigation into the filing of a false police report. Detectives presented evidence before a Cook County grand jury, police said.

By Wednesday evening, Chicago detectives were seeking to contact Smollett's legal team to work out a "reasonable surrender" for Smollett's arrest, a CPD spokesman said.

Attorneys for Smollett said they’ll launch their own “thorough investigation” and mount an "aggressive defense" of the actor.

“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," attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a joint statement.

Smollett claimed he was attacked early Jan. 29 in the Streeterville neighborhood by two men who yelled homophobic and racial slurs at him; threw bleach on him and put a noose around his neck. They allegedly yelled Chicago is "MAGA country," an apparent reference to President Trump. Smollett is African American and openly gay.

Chicago police said they could not find surveillance video of the attack but zeroed in on two persons of interest seen in grainy video. Various reports said two men police subsequently interviewed are associated with the “Empire” show or Smollett. 

Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said at a news conference Thursday that investigators saw the brothers fleeing the area of the alleged attack and getting into a cab. He said more surveillance footage showed the brothers at O'Hare International Airport, where they boarded a flight to Nigeria. Investigators determined the brothers had a roundtrip ticket and detained them for questioning when they returned to Chicago on Feb. 13.

Chicago Police Department

A police spokesman said information from the two men “shifted the trajectory of the investigation."

Two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, were arrested, but later released without charges. Investigators no longer viewed the two as suspects. Sources said the two brothers told police they helped staged the attack and were paid off. 

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson confirmed at Thursday's press conference that Smollett paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the attack and "drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process." Police had the $3,500 check as evidence. Johnson also added that the brothers punched Smollett with gloves on during the Jan. 29 attack, but that investigators believe scratches and bruises on the actor's face were likely self-inflicted.

On Wednesday, detectives and the two brothers testified before a grand jury.

"There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we're going to correct this," the brother's attorney Gloria Schmidt said.

She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. "You don't need immunity when you have the truth," she said.

That same day, Smollett was charged with felony disorder 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.

Johnson ended the Thursday news conference by saying justice would be for Smollett to apologize, admit what he did, and "then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this."

This week, Cook County State's Attorney Kimberly Foxx said she would recuse herself from the investigation, citing connections with potential witnesses in the case.

According to the Associated Press, Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.

But, Smollett has a record. He gave false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.

Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly monthlong investigation, including the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.

The size of the tab is anyone's guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.

20th Century Fox released a statement after Smollett turned himself in Thursday morning. It read:

 “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”

Smollett appeared in bond court at 1:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. A judge set a $100,000 bond and told Smollett he must give up his passport. 

The "Empire" actor said little other than giving his name at the beginning of Thursday's hearing.

Smollett's attorney asked Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. to release Smollett on his own recognizance. However, the judge said that would be inappropriate.

(WBBM Newsradio and The Associated Press contributed to this report. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)