Attorneys for Empire actor Jussie Smollett said Thursday evening that Chicago law enforcement “trampled” upon his “presumption of innocence” after arresting their client for allegedly filing a false police report concerning a racist and homophobic attack against himself last month.
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” the statement via Smollett’s legal team reads. “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election.”
The attorneys went on to say Smollett is a “young man of impeccable character and integrity” who vehemently denies any wrongdoing. They also said the actor feels “betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson took it personally when detectives determined that Smollett allegedly lied about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack .
Speaking Thursday at a news conference, Johnson said he was angry and offended that another black man would exploit racial divisions for his own gain — and smear the reputation of a city Johnson has worked his entire career to protect.
“I know the racial divide that exists here. I know how hard it’s been for our city and our nation to come together. And I also know the disparities and I know the history,” Johnson told reporters. ”‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
Police said Smollett planned the hoax because he was unhappy with his acting salary and wanted to promote his career. Before the attack, he also sent a letter that threatened him to the Chicago studio where Empire is shot, police said.
The actor “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” police, Johnson said.
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” he added.
Smollett, who is black and gay, told police he was physically attacked by two men who shouted homophobic and racial slurs at him before beating him up and throwing some kind of chemical on him the early morning of January 29. He also said his attackers shouted, “This is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” and looped a rope around his neck.
However, his story fell apart when brothers Abimbola Osundairo and Olabinjo Osundairo — bodybuilders and aspiring actors who Smollett knew from the “Empire” set and the gym — told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack because he was unhappy about his salary and wanted to promote his career.
Jussie Smollett was arrested Thursday morning and appeared in court later that day. A judge set his bond at $100,000.
Meanwhile, Smollett was back on the Chicago set of Empire after posting bail Thursday and pleaded with castmates to believe that he did not orchestrate the assault. “I’m sorry I’ve put you all through this and not answered any calls. I wanted to say I’m sorry and, you know me, I would never do this to any of you, you are my family. I swear to God, I did not do this,” he told them, TMZ reports.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.