Jussie Smollett made headlines when he claimed to be the victim of a vicious hate crime in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood on Jan. 29, 2019. The Empire actor, who is openly gay, told authorities that two masked men physically attacked him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs, threw an unknown chemical liquid on him and put a noose around his neck.
Two days after the alleged attack, Chicago police released surveillance images of two people considered persons of interest in the attack. Eventually, police identified the men as brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who are of Nigerian descent and one of whom was an extra on Empire and the other Smollett’s personal trainer. As a result of these findings, the investigation quickly turned from seeing Smollett as a victim to a suspect.
On Feb. 19, 2019, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx announced that she had recused herself because of her “familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.” On Feb. 20, Smollett was charged with a class 4 felony for filing a false police report.
Smollett surrendered to authorities early in the morning on Feb. 21, 2019. His lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, were not present at the time of surrender. Smollett has also hired high-profile criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos to aid in his defense. Smollett and his legal team appeared in court later that day to face one felony count of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging the attack and for filing a false police report. The judge set Smollett’s bond at $100,000. He is expected to bond out of jail. He is due back in court March 14, when he is expected to enter his plea.
If convicted, Smollett could face up to three years in prison as well as substantial monetary fines.
At a press conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett was “dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire and initially faked a letter using racist and homophobic language, but when that stunt failed to get attention, Johnson said that Smollett paid the two brothers $3,500 to stage the attack to get press.
In regards to his role on the FOX show, 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment released this statement: “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
Additionally, the FBI is investigating the alleged hoax letter, which was sent to Empire’s Chicago studio on Jan. 22, a week before Smollett allegedly staged the attack, according to ABC7.
Legal analyst Gil Soffer also told the outlet said Smollett could also face federal charges for allegedly sending the letter. Soffer explained, “He has exposure under federal criminal law for violating a criminal statute that makes it a crime to send a letter, a hoax letter like that. He could serve up to five years in jail.”