On Thursday, "Empire" star Jussie Smollett turned himself into authorities after a grand jury charged him with felonious disorderly conduct for filing a false police report over a "racist and homophobic" attack that police now say he paid two men to stage in order to promote his career. In response to a damning press conference held by the Chicago Police superintendent Thursday, Smollett's legal team has accused Chicago PD of having "trampled" on Smollett's rights.
"Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system. 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," Smollett's legal team said in a statement Thursday.
"Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing," his lawyers concluded.
The statement comes in response to an explosive press conference Thursday morning in which Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson unloaded on Smollett for what he described as his "shameful" orchestration of a fake hate crime which took "advantage of the pain and anger of racism to advance his career."
"As a black man who spent his entire life living in the city of Chicago, I know the racial divide that exists here," said the superintendent (video below). "I know how hard it's been for our city and our nation to come together. ... 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?"
"Bogus police reports cause real harm," said Johnson "They do harm to every legitimate victim who is in need of support by police and investigators as well as the citizens of this city."
In the press conference, Johnson revealed more details about the alleged hate hoax, including that investigators believe Smollett staged the attack and the fake hate letter because he felt that he deserved better pay for his role on "Empire." Johnson also said Smollett paid his co-conspirators, two American brothers of Nigerian descent, with a check.
The disorderly conduct for filing a false police report charge is a Class 4 felony in Illinois, which potentially carries a one- to three-year prison sentence. The allegation about the letter has been turned over to federal investigators and could result in additional charges, Johnson indicated.
Johnson also had some choice words for the national media, celebrities, and politicians (including "even presidential candidates"), who uncritically reported Smollett's claims. "To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks. Celebrities, news commentators and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor," he said, adding poignantly: "I wish the families of gun violence in this city got so much attention."