Twentieth Century Fox said it is “considering our options” on “Empire” star Jussie Smollett after he was arrested Thursday morning on a felony charge of filing a false police report.
“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 studio, which produces the Fox network drama, said in a statement.
Smollett surrendered himself to police at 5 a.m. CT Thursday, when he was arrested on charges of filing a false police report. The charges stem from a report Smollett filed on Jan. 29 that he was attacked by two men who shouted racial and homophobic slurs and referenced “MAGA.” After releasing two former suspects over the weekend, police said they wanted to interview Smollett again — and days later declared him a suspect.
During a press conference Thursday morning, Chicago PD Superintendent Eddie Johnson said that Smollett staged the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary.” Johnson also said Smollett sent the letter threatening himself to Fox, the “Empire” studio. When Johnson first made those statements, he did not mention their source or his proof.
Minutes later, during the media conference’s Q&A portion, the police superintendent responded “yes” to a reporter who asked if that information came from brothers Olabinjo (“Ola”) and Abimbola (“Abel”) Osundairo.
Johnson also said the following of Smollett’s photographed wounds: “So of course it was staged. The brothers had on gloves during the staged attack where they punched him a little bit. But as far as we can tell, the scratches and bruising that you saw on his face were most likely self-inflicted.”
In a statement Wednesday night, after the chargers were first approved by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office, Smollett’s attorneys vowed to ” mount an aggressive defense.”
“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,” Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
Fox’s statement comes a day after it had renewed its support of Smollett, saying, “Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show.” That statement came amid reports, including one here, that Smollett’s role of Jamal Lyon would be reduced over the remainder of “Empire’s” fifth season.
Since Smollett’s first police report on Jan. 29, the investigation took many turns, with varying degrees of cooperation from Smollett. At one point, police brought in the Osundairo brothers as persons of interest. As it turned out, both had worked on “Empire.”
The brothers were released without charges last Friday after the police said “new evidence” had emerged and that the investigation’s “trajectory” had changed course. Earlier this week, CNN reported that Chicago police believed that Smollett might have paid the brothers to stage the attack.
A week before Smollett reported the attack, Fox received a letter threatening Smollett. On Tuesday, ABC News reported that the FBI and U.S. Postal Service were looking into the possibility that Smollett had sent the threatening letter to himself, or played a role in its creation and delivery.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the investigation to avoid “potential questions of impartiality,” a rep for Foxx said. First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats has been set to act as prosecutor in her place.