Smollett returns to 'Empire' set, tells cast 'I swear to God, I did not do this'

February 21, 2019 - 3:30 pm
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CHICAGO (1010 WINS) -- "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett's bail was set at $100,000 during a bond hearing Thursday afternoon, and he must surrender his passport, a judge ruled.

Prosecutors said Smollett gave detailed instructions to two brothers who helped him in a staged attack against him in downtown Chicago, including giving them specific slurs to yell and telling them to shout "MAGA country" and to drape a rope around his neck.

Assistant State's Attorney Risa Lanier said at a news conference Thursday that Smollett even pointed out to the brothers a specific surveillance camera that he thought would capture footage of the Jan. 29 attack. Police say the camera was pointed another way during the staged attack.

Smollett's attorneys and family members left his Chicago bond hearing without speaking to reporters.

One of the attorneys, Jack Prior, told the judge during Thursday's hearing that Smollett maintains ``these are outrageous allegations'' and denies they are true. But he and the rest of the defense team left afterward without commenting.

About a dozen family members and supporters of Smollett attended the hearing. They stood up throughout the proceedings and also left without addressing the large media contingent outside.

After he was released from custody, Smollett headed to the Chicago set of "Empire," Entertainment Tonight reported

TMZ reports that Smollett addressed everyone on the set, saying, “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 then left. 

The hearing follows a press conference during which the city's police police superindendent said Smollett, "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career" when he made a false police report about an attack in Chicago.

Smollett also sent a racist and homophobic threatening letter to the Fox studio lot where he works in Chicago before the attack, Supt. Eddie Johnson said. He said Smollett was dissatisfied with his salary.

“I’m left hanging my head and asking why,” Johnson said. “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? How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city by making this false claim?"

Johnson excoriated Smollett at a press conference Thursday morning, saying the “publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

“I’m offended by what’s happened, and also angry,” Johnson said, adding that he was “hanging my head” at the “choreographed” attack.

Smollett turned himself in and was arrested early Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report when he told authorities he was attacked in Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said.

Referring to a published account of the attack, President Trump tweeted last month that "it doesn't get worse, as far as I'm concerned." On Thursday, he tweeted to Smollett: "What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA."

The studio behind "Empire," 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment," released a new statement Thursday in the wake of the police press conference. 

"We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options," the statement reads. 

On Wednesday, though, the studio had issued a statement saying Smollett "continues to be a consummate professional on set" and that his character is not being written off the show. 

The impact of Smollett's career is evident: On Thursday, TNT said it isn't going to air an upcoming episode of "Drop the Mic" featuring "Smollett "in the interest of not being exploitative of an incredibly sensitive situation."

The whispers about Smollett's account started with reports that he had not fully cooperated with police after telling authorities he was attacked. Then detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the beating. Later, two brothers were taken into custody for questioning but were released after two days, with police saying they were no longer suspects.

Following three weeks of mounting suspicions, Smollett was charged Wednesday with felony disorder conduct, a charge that could bring up to three years in prison and force the actor, who is black and gay, to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a Jan. 29 beating.

The felony charge emerged on the same day detectives and the two brothers testified before a grand jury. Smollett's attorneys met with prosecutors and police, but it was unknown what they discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting.

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."

Smollett, who plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show "Empire," said he was attacked Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled "This is MAGA country" — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" — before fleeing.

After reviewing hundreds of hours of video, detectives did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the brothers at O'Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.

The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola "Abel" and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett.

The day after they were released, police said the men provided information that had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation," and detectives requested another interviewwith Smollett.

Police said one of the men had worked on "Empire," and Smollett's attorneys said one of the men is the actor's personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video. The actor released his debut album, "Sum of My Music," last year.

Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. The police spokesman said the brothers appeared before the panel to "lock in their testimony."

Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers' attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.

"There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we're going to correct this," Gloria Schmidt said.

She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. "You don't need immunity when you have the truth," she said.

She also said her clients received money from Smollett, but she did not elaborate.

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 false impersonation and driving without a license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.