“Empire” actor Jussie Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police early Thursday morning amid accusations that he faked a racist and homophobic attack against himself last month.
Smollett, 36, faces a felony charge of disorderly conduct and could be jailed for up to three years, according to the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office. He is due in court later in the day.
Police say the Black and openly gay actor hired two brothers of Nigerian descent to stage an attack against him as he left a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago at about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29.
At the time, Smollett claimed his attackers shouted racist and anti-gay slurs, poured an unknown liquid on him and put a noose around his neck. The assailants also made references to “MAGA,” an allusion to President Donald Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan during his 2016 campaign, the actor said.
As Smollett’s story faced increased scrutiny, initial speculation was that he staged the attack out of fear his character was about to be written off the show, but police said Thursday he was unhappy with his salary and schemed to get a pay raise and boost his career.
The two brothers, who had previous connections to Smollett, began cooperating with authorities after police raided their home last week. The two men —Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — told police Smollett paid them $3,500 to participate in the hoax.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson slammed Smollett’s claim as “publicity stunt” that hampers legitimate victims, adding that the actor “took advantage of pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” Johnson said at a press conference Thursday to announce the charge.
Police said the actor also sent himself a threatening letter with racist and homophobic slurs to the Fox studio in Chicago, where the show is filmed, a week prior to the alleged attack.
Smollett believed the letter didn’t get enough attention, causing him to stage the attack, authorities said.
The FBI is investigating the letter, which could result in additional charges against Smollett.
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which adamantly denied reports of Smollett’s impending exit as a motive, said Thursday it has yet to decide its next step.
“We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process,” the company said in a statement. “We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”