Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday delivered a blistering statement to the public on the alleged hate-crime hoax perpetrated by Jussie Smollett, who has been charged with a felony of disorderly conduct for falsifying a police report, and who turned himself into police early Thursday morning.
“This announcement today recognizes that Empire actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson told a room full of reporters in Chicago. “I’m left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African American man use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile. How can an individual who’s been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everybody in the face making these false claims?”
What Johnson and Commander of Area Central Detectives Edward Wodnicki told the press had largely been reported already through leaks attributed to “police sources” for the past week or so. Johnson confirmed that the police suspect that Smollett sent himself a threatening letter that read—in letters cut out of apparent magazines in the style of ‘90s-movie serial killers—“YOU WILL DIE BLACK FAG” about a week before his alleged attack. Johnson said this was an attempt to “gain attention” and “when that didn’t work,” he concocted an attack story. What has not yet been publicly theorized is what kind of attention Smollett was supposedly courting and why the response supposedly disappointed him—it wasn’t until the morning of the attack that the letter was reported at all. (In other words, it’s not like the news was out there, and because the press didn’t make it a bigger deal, Smollett felt that he needed to ratchet things up.)
Johnson called the eventually claimed hate crime as a “publicity stunt” and “phony attack,” and said that, “This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary.” Johnson referred to Smollett as a “troubled young man.” He said hours of evidence combined with “old-fashioned police work” eventually led the CPD to reclassify Smollett from victim to suspect.
Wodnicki went through the timeline of the investigation, which played out much as it was reported in the press. He said that both police pod street cameras and private-sector cameras were essential to tracking down Ola and Abel Osundairo, the former persons of interest initially suspect of perpetrating the crime who, in their detailed accounts to the police last week, became classified as witnesses. Police said that it wasn’t until they were in custody for 47 hours that they finally revealed the entirety of Smollett’s alleged plot. Johnson confirmed they were paid $3,500 to participate, with an additional $500 promised. The Osundairos, the police said, fled to Nigeria after the attack and returned February 13. Upon reentry to the country, they were apprehended by police. Johnson said he believes they participated in the attack for the money.
Johnson also said, “When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, we were pissed off.” He said he believed that Smollett did want the attack to be caught on camera (though we know that the camera that would have captured the alleged attack/hoax was pointed in the wrong direction). Johnson said that the brothers had on gloves during the incident with Smollett, that they “punched him a little bit” but that the scratching and bruising that Smollett suffered was “most likely self-inflicted.”
Johnson called Smollett’s Good Morning America interview last week with Robin Roberts “shameful.” “It painted this city that we all love and work hard in, in a negative connotation,” he said. “To insinuate and to stage a hate crime of that nature when he knew as a celebrity it would get a lot of attention, is just despicable. It makes you wonder what’s going through someone’s mind to do something like that.”
Johnson said his idea of “absolute justice” for Smollett would involve an apology to the city of Chicago, an admission of guilt, and compensation for resources that were used to investigate what the police had looked at for weeks as a hate crime.
At the start of the press conference, Johnson lamented the attention the Smollett case has gotten versus other crimes in Chicago. “I wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention because that’s who really deserves the amount of attention that we’re giving to this particular incident,” he said.
Update (3:16 PM): Buzzfeed’s Tanya Chen reports that Smollett’s bond has been set to $100,000 and a judge has ordered him to turn in his passport.