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Jussie Smollett in his booking photo released by Chicago police on Thursday. Photograph: AP

Jussie Smollett staged attack because he was unhappy with salary, police say

  • Empire actor handed himself into police on Thursday morning
  • Smollett due in court Thursday on charges of lying to police

WT24 Desk

Jussie Smollett in his booking photo released by Chicago police on Thursday. Photograph: AP

The actor Jussie Smollett claimed he was attacked and beaten by two masked men shouting racist and homophobic slurs because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on the TV show Empire, Chicago police have said, The Guardian reports.

Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career”, Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a press conference on Thursday morning, shortly after Smollett was arrested. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” Johnson later added.

Smollett, 36, ignited a firestorm on social media by telling police on 29 January that two apparent supporters of Donald Trump had struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him.

Johnson said Smollett paid two men $3,500 to stage the attack, and also sent a racist and homophobic threatening letter to himself at the Fox studio lot in Chicago, where Empire is filmed.

The actor, who is gay, handed himself into police on Thursday morning after he was charged with felony disorderly conduct on Wednesday for making a false police report. The charge could bring up to three years in prison. It could also force Smollett to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report.

Smollett is expected to appear in court later on Thursday.

In less than a month, Smollett went from receiving an outpouring of support for being the apparent victim of a hate crime, to being accused of fabricating the entire scenario.

Initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from California senator Kamala Harris and the TV talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres.

Trump also condemned the reported attack and said: “It doesn’t get on worse, as far as I’m concerned.”

But on Thursday Trump tweeted to Smollett: “What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”

Smollett, who plays a gay character in the hit Fox show, had said he was attacked as he was walking home at 2am from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled “This is Maga country”, an apparent reference to Trump’s campaign slogan, before fleeing.

But doubts about Smollett’s claims started with reports that he had not fully cooperated with police after telling authorities he was attacked. Then detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the attack.

Later, two brothers were taken into custody for questioning but were released after two days, with police saying they were no longer suspects. Police announced a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the investigation last week after the brothers were freed.

In a statement, Smollett’s attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, said he “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”.

The announcement of the charges followed a flurry of activity in recent days, including lengthy police interviews of the brothers, a search of their home and their release after officers cleared them.

After reviewing hundreds of hours of video, detectives did find and release images of the brothers at O’Hare airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.

The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett. They testified before a grand jury on Wednesday.

Police said one of the men had appeared on Empire, and Smollett’s attorneys said one of the men was the actor’s personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him in shape for a music video. The actor released his debut album, Sum of My Music, last year.

Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury, on Wednesday. The police spokesman said the brothers appeared before the panel to “lock in their testimony”.

Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.

“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said. She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. “You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.

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