March 19, 2019
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‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett arrested to face felony charge for false police report

John Amis | AP
John Amis | AP
Jussie Smollett is shown at Macy's Lenox Square during the Sean John 2015 Fall Holiday event in Atlanta.

Jussie Smollett was taken into police custody hours after he was charged with disorderly conduct after allegedly filing a false police report about an assault on him last month in Chicago, authorities announced early Thursday morning.

“Jussie Smollet is under arrest and in custody of detectives,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted.

The authorities did not provide any additional details about Smollett’s arrest, but Gugliemi had said Wednesday, after Smollett was charged by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, that police would “make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.”

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A bond hearing is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Central Time in Cook County Criminal Court, police said.

The actor had told police he was attacked last month by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him.

On Wednesday, Chicago-based attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, who are representing Smollett, wrote in a statement: “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. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”

The news of the felony charge came just hours after the city’s police department announced that the “Empire” actor was being treated as a suspect in the criminal investigation. Police had said days ago that they wanted to speak with Smollett again after new evidence “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.”

Smollett previously told police he was attacked about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two people who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him. He said at least one assailant told him “this is MAGA country” during the alleged attack. Police said last month they were investigating the alleged assault against Smollett, who is black and openly gay, as a possible hate crime.

Police have not publicly discussed the new evidence that prompted them to request a follow-up interview with Smollett, but they said the information came up in interviews with two people who were arrested last week and released Friday without being charged. Police say at least one of the two men – who are brothers and of Nigerian descent – worked on the Fox drama with Smollett, but declined to say whether the actor knew them.

There have been heightened doubts about Smollett’s allegations amid news reports, which cited unnamed police sources, that he may have staged the attack. In a statement late Saturday, attorneys Pugh and Henderson said Smollett had “been further victimized by claims” that he “played a role in his own attack.”

“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” they wrote in the statement, adding that one of the individuals who spoke to police was a personal trainer whom Smollett hired to help him get ready for a music video.

Smollett has aligned himself in the past with organizations dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness, civil rights and LGBTQ advocacy. He invoked this while discussing the skepticism surrounding his claims during an interview that aired last week on “Good Morning America.”

“I’m an advocate. I respect too much the people – who I am now, one of those people – who have been attacked in any way,” he told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this.”

When details of Smollett’s alleged assault were released by police last month, celebrities and other high-profile figures rallied around him – some seizing on the apparently racist and homophobic nature of the alleged attack or the reported invocation of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. But mounting questions surrounding the case caused unease.

“Why would he make it harder for people who actually suffer from hate crimes? It makes no sense. The lie is so damaging,” writer Roxane Gay tweeted Saturday. She previously wrote that she hoped Smollett “knows how many people are thinking of him and committed to holding this administration and its ilk accountable for this hothouse of hate being fostered.”

Some have also questioned whether Smollett staged the attack to prevent himself from being written out of “Empire,” a theory that 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment denied Wednesday in a statement that referred to the actor as “a consummate professional on set.”

Several politicians initially spoke out in support of Smollett but have since adjusted their stances, including Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kamala Harris of California, who called for judgment to be withheld until the investigation has been completed. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., deleted a tweet that referred to the alleged attack as “an affront to our humanity.”

Others, such as filmmaker Ava Duvernay, have expressed caution over putting faith in the police department: “Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD. The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times?” she tweeted. “Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.”

Guglielmi told the Associated Press on Tuesday that police were investigating a tip that Smollett and the two brothers were seen together in the elevator of his apartment building the night of the alleged attack. Guglielmi, who tweeted Tuesday night that the tip was “unfounded,” said it could not be corroborated by video evidence.

 



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