US actor Jussie Smollett arrested, accused of lying to police

The ‘Empire’ actor is charged with lying to police after claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.

Jussie Smollett
Cast member Jussie Smollett attends a screening of the television series 'Empire' in Los Angeles [File: Phil McCarten/Reuters]

Actor Jussie Smollett has been arrested after he was charged with lying to police when he claimed he was attacked and beaten by two masked men shouting racist and homophobic slurs, Chicago police said.

Smollett, a 36-year-old black, openly gay actor on the hip-hop TV drama “Empire”, told police on January 29 that two apparent supporters of US President Donald Trump had struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him.

Smollett is in the custody of detectives, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Thursday.

In a press conference later in the day, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said the actor paid $3,500 to stage the attack. 

“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said. “How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”

In a statement, attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said 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”.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office approved felony criminal charges against Smollett for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report, Guglielmi said late on Wednesday.

The charge of making a false police report could bring up to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a January 29 beating. 

Last week, police arrested two brothers who were recognised from surveillance footage of the area where Smollett said the attack occurred. The brothers’ lawyer told local media that her clients knew Smollett from working with him on “Empire”.

Police released the brothers two days later without charges. 

Previous record

Since the alleged attack, Smollett had received support on social media, including from several celebrities. But some had remained sceptical of the incident, which Smollett said occurred around 2am on a Chicago street during one of the city’s coldest weeks in recent history.

In an interview with “Good Morning America” last week, Smollett said he was angry that some people questioned his story, and he suggested the disbelief might come from racial bias.

Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.

Smollett has a record – one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment programme.

Source: News Agencies