One of the strangest stories in recent memory took a grim turn on Wednesday, when Chicago police arrested Empire actor Jussie Smollett in connection with a purported assault that took place on January 29. At the time, Smollett told investigators that his assailants had shouted racial and homophobic slurs—as well as references to President Trump—while beating him, dousing him with a chemical, and putting a rope around his neck. Police now say they believe Smollett staged the attack himself, and paid two acquaintances to carry it out as he walked back to his Chicago apartment.
At a press conference, a police spokesman alleged that Smollett first sent himself a fake threatening letter containing white powder, which was received at the studio at which Empire is filmed on January 22. They say that when the incident failed to elicit the sort of attention for which Smollett hoped, he began planning the attack, writing a $3,500 check to two friends who bought gloves, ski masks, sunglasses, rope, and red hats from local hardware and beauty-supply stores. The trio allegedly rehearsed the attack at some point in the days before January 29. The scratches on Smollett’s neck, the spokesman added, were self-inflicted; Smollett’s dissatisfaction with his Empire salary was supposedly his motive.
Smollett surrendered to police early on Thursday morning on disorderly conduct charges of filing a false police report—a class 4 felony in Illinois. Under state law, such crimes may be punishable by between one and three years in prison. A court could also require Smollett to reimburse the police department for the resources spent investigating his claims, up to a maximum amount of $10,000. In a statement, his attorneys say they plan to conduct a “thorough investigation” and mount an “aggressive defense.” He is expected to make a court appearance later today.
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