On the morning of February 21st, Empire-actor Jussie Smollett surrendered himself to Police custody to face a felony disorderly conduct charge for filing a false police report concerning the now infamous, alleged racial and homophobic attack which authorities now believe never occurred.
Smollett surrendered to police at 5 AM on the morning of February 21st. Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. set Smollett’s bond at $100,000, and the actor proceeded to post bond and was released at 4 PM the same day, with the Judge telling the accused actor:
As you stand before me we presume you’re innocent but the state read me a proffer that is outrageous.
The most vile and despicable part of it, if it’s true, is the noose, that symbol conjures up such evil in this country’s history.
The proffer submitted by prosecutors details the timeline of the alleged hoax, from the January 25th approaching of the Osundairo brothers by Smollett with the offer of staging the hoax, to the February 13th arrest of the brothers at Chicago O’Hare International Airport as the pair returned from Nigeria. The document also provides details of the relationship between Smollett and the brothers, with Abel Osundiaro cited as a co-worker of Smollett’s on Empire as well as his source for designer drugs such as ‘Molly’ aka Ecstasy.
Following Smollett’s surrender, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson held a press conference to discuss the facts of the case:
The press conference begins with Johnson stating that they believe the racially and homophobically charged letter sent to Smollett at Fox Studios was sent by Smollett himself. As to his motive, Johnson states that “This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary.”
Johnson was justifiably angered by the situation, stating that Smollett took advantage of racial tensions and divide to further his own career:
“I know the racial divide that exists here. I know how hard it’s been for our city and our nation to come together. And I also know the disparities and I know the history. This announcement today recognizes that ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
Echoing the confusion of many, Johnson asked rhetorically how anyone, especially an African-American man, could be driven to abuse history of racism and racial tensions for his own personal agenda:
“I’m 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. 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?”
Mere hours after posting bond, Smollett returned to the Empire set. On set, Smollett allegedly addressed his fellow cast and crew members, begging them to believe him as he continues to proclaim his innocence:
“I’m sorry I’ve put you all through this and not answered any calls. I wanted to say I’m sorry and, you know me, I would never do this to any of you, you are my family. I swear to God, I did not do this.”
Despite this return, in a joint statement issued by Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Brett Mahoney and executive producers Danny Strong, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, and Dennis Hammer, the Empire executives announced that Smollett’s character, Jamal, would be removed from the final two episodes of the show’s 5th season:
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Smollett’s legal team also issued a statement on Thursday night, stating that the actor felt betrayed by the justice system and insinuating that there may have been a political motive behind his prosecution:
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Smollett is scheduled to be due back in court on March 14th.