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Actor And Musician Jussie Smollett Turns Himself In After Facing False Report Charges

Feb 21, 2019
Originally published on February 21, 2019 5:35 pm
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now to Chicago where one of the stars of the TV show "Empire," Jussie Smollett, was charged with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Smollett, who is black and gay, said he was the victim of a hate crime late last month. At a press conference this morning, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his team's investigation revealed that Smollett made the whole thing up.

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EDDIE JOHNSON: Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who's in need of support by police and investigators, as well as the citizens of this city.

SHAPIRO: Jussie Smollett was in court this afternoon, and WBEZ reporter Miles Bryan was there. He joins us now. Hi, Miles.

MILES BRYAN, BYLINE: Hey, thanks for having me.

SHAPIRO: What did police say about why Smollett would have done this?

BRYAN: Yeah. This morning, they finally gave us a clear answer of what that might be. They said he did it because he was unhappy with his salary on the show "Empire." Police said Smollett sent himself a threatening letter last month. And then that - when that didn't get the reaction he was hoping for, he staged this attack. He staged a hate crime.

SHAPIRO: Police had devoted a lot of resources to the case over the last few weeks. What did they have to say today?

BRYAN: Yeah. You know, they were uncharacteristically pissed, frankly. I mean, at a press conference this morning, there was kind of a striking visual. You saw all these detectives - maybe a dozen or so detectives flanking the top brass. And they've all been working on this for the last couple of weeks. I mean, this is a case that's taken a huge amount of resources and manpower and focus. And Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson - he seemed really worked up. We heard him in the intro, but here he is again.

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JOHNSON: How can an individual, who's been embraced by the city of Chicago, turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?

BRYAN: And I think - Ari, I think that's a sentiment that a lot of Chicagoans are dealing with right now - that this is just such a waste. I mean, this is a city that has so much need, especially in the criminal justice area. There are - there's a very high rate of shootings and killings. And there's a high rate of these crimes that are not solved where there's never an arrest made. So the fact that CPD used so many resources on this case, I think, is just really frustrating to a lot of people.

SHAPIRO: So far, Smollett has not commented on the charges. But he did appear at the bond hearing. Did he say anything there? What are we hearing from his team?

BRYAN: Yeah. I mean, he only really said a couple of words back and forth with the judge. The hearing was packed. I mean, you had a group of Smollett's family or friends filling a whole roll - a whole row. Excuse me. They filed in all wearing sunglasses, but Smollett's attorney did say that they, quote, "vehemently deny the charges and that he wants nothing more than to clear his name." The judge rejected Smollett's attorney's request for an I bond, which would allow Smollett to walk out without posting any money. And the judge said that, you know, these charges, if true, were outrageous. And he really focused on the noose that Smollett said had been placed on his neck during this alleged attack. He said that using that symbol in this way is just evil.

SHAPIRO: This was just the first court appearance for Jussie Smollett. How will this play out from here?

BRYAN: You know, I think we can expect this story to slow down. These kind of cases can drag on for a really long time. Smollett had to give up his passport. He can't talk to two of the witnesses in the case that have been cooperating with the police. But, you know, now I think the quickness of this story slows down. And we're left with this moment where we have to think about, you know, what, if anything, this means and whether the reactions that so many folks have been jumping to so quickly, you know, was the right way to approach it.

SHAPIRO: And though it's certainly not the most important part of the story, what about the TV show "Empire" that he stars in?

BRYAN: You know, I think that's unclear. During the hearing, Smollett's attorney said that he had a shoot scheduled either later today or very soon. But I'm also seeing some reports that Fox is considering its options. So I think that's up in the air. I mean, that's a very popular show. So we'll have to watch that, too.

SHAPIRO: Miles Bryan of member station WBEZ. Thanks a lot.

BRYAN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.