“There’s no verifiable evidence” against Jussie Smollett. That’s the claim the actor’s family made at a press briefing as they insisted Chicago police “mishandled” the case and Smollett was denied justice.
During the hour-long virtual gathering on Friday, the “Empire” star’s siblings — Jazz Smollett, Jocqui Smollett and Joel Smollett stated their case. The Smollett family and defense attorney Heather Widell met with a select group of Los Angeles-based Black journalists and insisted Jussie never lied about being assaulted.
“Our main focus right now is making sure that the media understands that the narrative that Jussie is lying, that he committed perjury in any way, or that his story fell apart is just patently not correct,” said attorney Widell. “We have independent witnesses who completely and unequivocally corroborate Jesse’s story of what he saw that night.”
However, Widell didn’t elaborate on the identities of those witnesses.
Jussie was released from jail on Wednesday night, after an appellate court ruled the actor should be freed pending the appeal of his conviction for lying to Chicago police about what the investigation determined was an elaborate hoax. The actor has maintained his innocence throughout the case.
Before his release, Jussie spent six nights in jail, but his family members insisted the reason he was locked up was because — in their opinion — Chicago police rushed to judgement amid intense pressure to solve the high-profile case.
“CPD absolutely mishandled the case. And folks need to understand that CPD was under a lot of pressure at the time to solve cases,” said Jocqui Smollett.
“There, the murder rate still is at an alarming rate in Chicago, CPD still is not solving murder rates at anywhere near the rate that the people want them to. And so they needed to solve this case and make sure it was solved in some way, shape or form. And it seems like that’s what they did. And they just washed their hands with it. It was completely mishandled,” he added.
The Chicago Police Department didn’t respond to TheWrap’s request for comment about the family’s allegations.
The case began in the early morning hours of Jan. 29, 2019, when Jussie told police “two unknown offenders” approached him after he left a downtown Chicago Subway sandwich shop. The actor said he was beaten, doused with bleach, and had a rope wrapped around his neck as the assailants yelled “racial and homophobic” slurs, and shouted “this is MAGA country,” apparently referring to former President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Two weeks later, police arrested two brothers, who were friends with Smollett, saying the actor wrote the men a $3,500 check to carry out the attack. Police said it was all staged to get attention.
“’Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” then-Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters at the time. Johnson said Smollett staged the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on “Empire.”
On Friday, attorney Widell tried to poke holes in the motive.
“[Jussie] had just been offered a new contract,” she said.
Back in 2019, Smollett was charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for lying to police, but the charges were dropped by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx in March 2019. Amid public outcry, a special prosecutor was then appointed and Smollett was charged again. In December 2021, he was convicted on five counts of disorderly conduct. On March 10, a Cook County Judge sentenced the actor to 150 days in jail plus probation and a fine.
Yet Smollett’s family insisted on Friday, the actor never should have been charged a second time after the case was dismissed. They added that they brought their message to reporters in Los Angeles and Black Lives Matter L.A. after losing faith in Chicago’s “corporatized media” and their close relationship with the CPD. The family urged reporters to dig deeper and investigate the police investigation.