Jussie Smollett blasted by Chicago police for exploiting city's racial divide for personal gain

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By Minyvonne Burke  with NBC News U.S. News
Image: Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett booking photo released on Feb. 21, 2019 by Chicago Police Dept.   -   Copyright  Chicago Police Dept.

The head of the Chicago Police Department said during a news conference Thursday that actor Jussie Smollett staged an attack on himself last month because he was unhappy with his salary on the show "Empire."Superintendent Eddie Johnson also said Smollett sent himself a letter containing racist language, and when that did not work, he paid $3,500 to orchestrate the attack."This announcement today recognizes that 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Johnson said."Why would anyone, especially an African America use a noose ... to further his public profile," he questioned.

Jussie Smollett booking photo released on Feb. 21, 2019 by Chicago Police Dept.
Jussie Smollett booking photo released on Feb. 21, 2019 by Chicago Police Dept.Chicago Police Dept.

Smollett was arrested early Thursday morning, hours after he was charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report claiming he was attacked by two masked men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him in Chicago on Jan. 29.The 36-year-old actor, who is black and gay, said the alleged attackers put a noose around his neck and poured what he said was bleach on him.Chicago police initially investigated the incident as a "possible hate crime," but on Wednesday said the actor was a suspect in the criminal investigation.If convicted, Smollett could face probation or up to three years in prison, a Cook County State's Attorney office spokeswoman told NBC Chicago. He is due in court for a bond hearing at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday."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," Smollett's attorneys said in a statement Wednesday night, adding that they will "conduct a thorough investigation" and "mount an aggressive defense."Smollett's claims that he was attacked began to stir up questions from social media users when police said they were not able to find surveillance video of the incident. The "Empire" actor responded to critics during an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" saying if he had said his attackers were minorities "doubters would have supported me a lot much more."During the investigation, Chicago police released pictures from a surveillance camera located near the attack that showed two men detectives said were "potential persons of interest." The two men, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, were taken into custody on Feb. 13 but released two days later without charges.Police said the brothers were no longer suspects and were cooperating with the investigation. A police source told NBC News that the probe had shifted into whether Smollett staged the assault and paid the brothers.Prior to Smollett's arrest, the Osundairo brothers met with prosecutors twice this week. Their attorney GloriaSchmidt said that her clients were "getting their story out there to the police" so that investigators "could do their work." She also said the brothers do not expect to be charged "because they are not guilty of anything."