Race & Identity
Jussie Smollett Allegedly Staged Attack Because He Was Discontent With 'Empire' Salary, Police Say
The announcement comes after a series of reports indicating the actor orchestrated the alleged hoax.
Update (February 21, 2019): Jussie Smollett has turned himself into police after being deemed a suspect in connection to the alleged attack he reported to police on January 29. Smollett is now being charged with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report, which is a class four felony. According to Chicago PD, Smollett orchestrated the hoax because of work-related problems. The 36-year-old allegedly arranged to have a threatening letter sent to his workplace, calling him a "f****t" because he wanted a higher pay rate from the FOX show.
When the letter didn't yield the desired attention, cops claim the actor then paid two men $3,500 to stage an assault on him, reports CNN.
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On Wednesday, Chief Communications Officer of the Chicago Police Department Anthony Guglielmi tweeted Smollett was being charged.
Case Update: Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury. pic.twitter.com/FhDcbBKsuU— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 20, 2019
The announcement came after a series of reports began to indicate the Empire actor and philanthropist conspired with two brothers who served as extras on the Fox show in orchestrating what was believed to be a hate crime. Earlier on Wednesday, video surveillance showed the two Nigerian brothers initially suspected of carrying out the attack purchasing rope, ski masks and other items purportedly used in the reported attack.
Smollett is now in police custody.
Also on Wednesday, the Chicago Police Department determined a tip it received suggesting Jussie Smollett met with the brothers arrested in connection with his alleged attack last month was unfounded. The meeting was said to have taken place in an elevator in Smollett's apartment complex. Time reports investigators reviewed elevator security footage from the complex and found no evidence to support the tip.
Chicago police reportedly still want to hear from Smollett, and CBS 2 reports at least twelve search warrants have been cleared in hopes of moving the investigation forward.
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As police work their way through the evidence, a grand jury is reportedly preparing to look into the alleged attack, as well. Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, two Chicago brothers who were briefly arrested in connection with the incident, were set to testify before that jury Wednesday. However, CBS reports their testimonies were postponed after Smollett's legal team contacted Cook County prosecutors.
Although the county's state's attorney, Kim Foxx, would typically be involved in a grand jury proceeding, Foxx has recused herself from the case. Foxx’s spokeswoman released a one-sentence statement to explain why, according to ABC News.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case," the statement read.
The office has confirmed that Foxx’s first assistant attorney, Joseph Magats, will work as the acting state attorney on this case.
Original: Two Nigerian siblings arrested as potential suspects in the Jussie Smollett attack have been released by Chicago Police.
Within 12 hours of their detainment, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo were released due to the discovery of new evidence, according to The New York Times. Police raided their apartment Wednesday and found items such as bleach and scripts that could link them to the assault on the Empire co-star.
"Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” Anthony Guglielmi, the Chicago Police Department spokesman, said in a statement.
Case Update: Due to new evidence as a result of today's interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete. pic.twitter.com/Hswn1Qjgcy— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 16, 2019
The new evidence in question was not disclosed, but police said it was obtained during questioning. According to The Chicago Tribune, the Osundairo brothers played football at Quincy University and then launched a career in acting and bodybuilding. Reports state both men had small background roles on the hit Fox show.
Their attorney, Gloria Schmidt, expressed concern for her clients. She told media the brothers did not understand why they were arrested to begin with.
“They’re really baffled why they are people of interest. They really don’t understand how they even got information that linked them to this horrific crime. But they’re not guilty of it. They know that the evidence is going to prove them innocent. They send their best to Jussie.”
The two men had been questioned by police over the past two days and were formally arrested Friday. Although the attackers were believed to be white, CBS Chicago reports the detained men are of Nigerian descent.
Last Thursday, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the brothers were people of interest and not yet suspects. According to NBC News, the men were apprehended by police at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport after they returned from a trip to Nigeria Wednesday.
The men were questioned, and police obtained a warrant to search their home. Police reportedly found an Empire script, a black balaclava, a red hat, bleach, receipts and a phone.
Gloria Schmidt, an attorney for the brothers, said the men have worked on the Empire set and were "baffled" to learn they were people of interest.
“When they first learned about what happened to him they were horrified," Schmidt said. "This is someone they know. This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that."
The attorney added, "They really don't understand how [the police] even got information that linked them to this horrific crime. They're not guilty of it. They know that the evidence is going to prove them innocent."
The police reportedly identified the brothers using surveillance cameras near the location Smollett said the incident occurred. It is also reported that the brothers live near this location.
Smollett has yet to comment on the arrest. As Blavity reported, the actor appeared on Good Morning America last Thursday and told his story publicly for the first time.
"I heard 'Empire,' and I don’t answer to Empire," Smollett said. "My name ain’t 'Empire,' and I didn’t answer. I kept walking, and then I heard 'f****t Empire n****r.' So, I turned around, and I said, 'The f**k did you just say to me?'”
“'This MAGA country, n****r.' Punches me right in the face," Smollett continued. "So I punched his a** back. And then we started tussling, and it was very icy.”
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