Empire actor Jussie Smollett staged the Jan. 29 assault hoax because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” and to promote his career, according to a self-described “angry” and “offended” Chicago Supt. Eddie Johnson.
That startling assertion came during this morning’s Chicago Police press conference on the Smollett’s arrest. Johnson said Smollett paid siblings Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo $3,500 to participate in the phony attack, with an additional $500 promised upon completion. Police are now treating the brothers as witnesses, and Johnson said the Osundairos implicated Smollett 47 hours into their 48-hour police detention.
The brothers were taken into custody on Feb. 13 as persons of interest, and Johnson said police had only one hour left to hold them without charges when the Osundairos confessed that the actor was behind the incident.
“From the very beginning we had some questions about it,” Johnson said, adding that was given “the benefit of the doubt until the 47th hour of the 48 hours we could hold those two individuals.”
Smollett turned himself in today at 5 a.m. Chicago time. The police department subsequently released a booking photo (see below). Smollett remains in police custody, with a bond hearing is set for this afternoon at 1:30 p.m. Chicago time.
Yesterday, Smollett was charged with federal disorderly conduct in falsifying a police report by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, a Class 4 Felony charge punishable by up to 3yrs in prison and up to $25,000 in fines.
Answering questions from reporters, Johnson said he believed that “absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did and then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of resources put into this.”
The Empire actor, Johnson said, “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.”
Johnson, who is African American, said he was offended and angry by Smollett’s actions. In particular, Johnson noted that the use of a noose “to further his own public profile” was a “slap in the face” to everyone in Chicago, a city that had “embraced” Smollett.
“I’m left hanging my head and asking why,” Johnson said. “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 can an individual who’s 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,” Johnson said, adding that such hoaxes “harm every legitimate victim” as well as the police who waste time and everyone in the city. Johnson said he feared “future victims of real hate crimes will be met with skepticism,” even though he pledged that Chicago police would “continue to move forward with same amount of vigor” as always with regard to reported hate crimes.
Johnson said that although the Osundairo brothers – who, Johnson said, were likely chosen by Smollett because of their “bulk” – apparently lightly roughed up the actor, the scratches and bruises that were evident on Smollett’s face following the incident were probably “self-inflicted.”
“The brothers had on gloves during the staged attack,” the superintendent said. “They punched him a little bit. The scratching and bruising we saw on his face was most likely self-inflicted.”
Johnson repeatedly expressed anger and dismay over both Smollett’s alleged actions and the abundance of media coverage. “Quite frankly it pissed everybody off,” he said, explaining that police interviewed more than 100 people and executed 50 search warrants – “a waste of time and money.”
Smollett’s “celebrity status” brought the case excessive attention, Johnson said.
“Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor,” Johnson said. The superintendent began his remarks at the press conference by expressing his wish that families of the city’s gun violence received as much attention the Smollett case.
Johnson was asked by a reporter whether he had seen Smollett’s interview on Good Morning America last week. “I saw a couple parts and to be quite honest it’s shameful.” Johnson said Smollett’s interview with Robin Roberts “painted this city we all love” in “a negative connotation.”
“To stage a hate crime of that nature when he knew as a celebrity it would get a lot of attention makes you wonder what’s going through his mind,” Johnson said. “I was angry about it.”
Johnson praised the city’s detectives who he said solved the case with “old fashioned police work,” and he also thanked the FBI for its assistance.
“I will continue to pray for t his troubled young man,” Johnson said of the actor.
Following Johnson’s statements, Chicago detective Edward Wodnicki presented a timeline of events in the case.
According to police, Smollett orchestrated the racist, threatening letter sent to Fox but was dissatisfied with what he considered the lack of attention it received.
“When that didn’t work, he paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” Johnson said. The check, allegedly made out by Smollett to the Osundairos, currently is in police possession.
Earlier, the actor’s attorneys released a statement reminding that 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. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
Johnson insisted at the press conference today that any leaks did not come from the police. Repeatedly chastising the media for the attention lavished on the case since Jan. 29, Johnson said, “I only hope the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention the hoax did.”