Television star Jussie Smollett, best known for his role as Jamal Lyon on the Fox series Empire, was arrested Thursday morning on suspicion of filing a false police report. Smollett had previously told police that he was attacked on January 29 outside his apartment by two men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs.
In the wake of Smollett's alleged attack, various celebrities and public figures expressed their support and condemned his attackers. Even President Trump referred to the attack as "horrible" when asked during an interview. Democratic senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker described the attack as a modern-day lynching.
The events leading to Smollett's arrest began on January 22, 2019; when Smollett reported receiving an envelope addressed to him at a production studio in Chicago containing threats and white powder. The letters "MAGA" were written in red ink on the addres portion of the envelope. The powder was determined to be crushed aspirin.
A little over one week later, on January 29, Smollett reported to police that he was attacked by two men while getting food around 2:00 am. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, told law enforcement that he was walking back to his apartment when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, and told him, "This is MAGA country." The men physically assaulted Smollett, poured bleach on him, and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Shortly thereafter, Smollett's story began to unravel. Chicago police reported that despite reviewing hours of surveillance camera footage, including footage of Smollett walking downtown, there was no video surveillance of the actual attack. Smollett was also reportedly hesitant to turn his phone records over the to police, to substantiate his claim that he was on the phone with his manager at the time of the attack. When he finally produced his phone records, they were so heavily redacted they were of little help.
On February 14, Smollett gave a televised interview on "Good Morning America," where Smollett expressed outrage and offense over the questioning of his story. Chicago police had identified two people of interest, seen on surveillance footage around 1:30 am. The two men were identified as brothers from Nigeria and believed to have worked on the set of Empire.
The brothers, Abimbola "Abel" Osundairo and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo were originally considered suspects but eventually released. Following their interviews, investigators began looking into what, if any, role Smollett played in the attack.
On February 20, Smollett was charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. The Osundairo brothers had given the information necessary to charge Smollett during the 47th hour of a 48 hour holding period. Authorities report that if the brothers had waited another hour, police would have been forced to release them.
Smollett was arrested the morning of February 21 and appeared in court that afternoon. It was revealed that Smollett paid the Osundairo brothers $3,500 to stage the attack on him, in an effort to use "the pain and anger of racism to promote his career." According to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Smollett's false report because he was dissatisfied with his salary and felt not enough attention had resulted from the January 22 letter.
The Osundairo brothers were released without being charged and went before a grand jury. After hearing the evidence, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office approved a felony disorderly conduct charge against Smollett. Under Illinois law, filing a false police report constitutes disorderly conduct and can result in a one to three year prison sentence.
Smollett was released on $100,000 bail and returned immediately to the Empire set. He reportedly apologized to the cast and crew and maintained his innocence. Fox has denied reports that Smollett's character will be written off the show, but released a statement saying that they would respect the legal process and evaluate the situation.
Smollett's next court appearance is set for March 14.
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