On Thursday, hours after turning himself in to Chicago police, Jussie Smollett attended a bail hearing and was released on a $100,000 bond. Between his arrest and release, the Chicago Police Department held a press conference in which they all but declared Smollett guilty of staging his alleged attack at the end of January, describing in no uncertain terms how police believe he did so, and lambasting him for what they called a “publicity stunt” and a “slap” in Chicago’s face.
In response, later on Thursday, Smollett’s legal team released a statement describing how the actor felt “betrayed” by CPD’s presumption of his guilt before he’d undergone a fair trial, in an apparent lapse of the U.S. justice system’s premise of innocence until proven guilty. “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,” they wrote in the statement, obtained by CBS Chicago reporter Charlie De Mar. “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.”
During Thursday’s press conference, CPD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said police had uncovered a check for $3,500 allegedly paid by Smollett to brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, as well as text messages between them, for them to carry out what was initially described as a hate crime against Smollett; in the early hours of January 29, Smollett told police at the time, he’d been approached by two men who yelled racist and homophobic slurs, poured a liquid on him, physically attacked him, and put a noose around his neck. Johnson also alleged (though, without using impartial words like “alleged” or “claimed”) that Smollett had been the one to send to the Empire set a slur-filled message, constructed from cutout magazine letters, threatening his life. Both instances, per police, stemmed from Smollett’s allegedly being “dissatisfied with his salary.”
“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.” He continued, “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 everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?”
Smollett has maintained his innocence and his claim that he was the victim of the attack from the very beginning. “Like any other citizen, Mr. 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,” his legal team said in a statement on Wednesday, shortly after CPD had issued charges for his arrest. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”