“Empire” star Jussie Smollett was released from Cook County Jail in Chicago on Thursday after a judge set a $100,000 bond for the actor, who is accused of staging an attack against himself in downtown Chicago last month.
The 36-year-old said little other than giving his name at the beginning of the bond hearing, according to the Associated Press.
Smollett’s attorney asked Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr. to release Smollett on his own recognizance, but the judge said that would be inappropriate, the Associated Press reported. Smollett’s legal team told the judge their client denies the “outrageous allegations.”
The actor turned himself in to authorities on a felony charge of disorderly conduct earlier in the day. If convicted, he could face up to three years in prison.
About a dozen family members and supporters attended the hearing but did not address the media, AP reported. After his release he returned to the Chicago set of the Fox musical drama “Empire,” The Times has confirmed.
Criminal defense lawyer Mark Geragos, who is advising Smollett’s legal team, denounced Chicago law enforcement hours after a morning news conference during which the police superintendent accused Smollett of creating a shameful ruse.
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” Geragos said in a statement to The Times. “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. 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.”
Chicago police said Thursday that Smollett staged the Jan. 29 attack that has sparked national attention. The accusation put an even brighter spotlight on the highly publicized case — and even drew the ire of President Trump.
“This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary so he concocted a story about being attacked,” Police Supt. Eddie T. Johnson said at a news conference hours after Smollett turned himself in.
The actor-musician was charged with felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report after he said he was attacked in downtown Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck — an incident he recounted for a national audience on “Good Morning America” last week.
“This announcement today recognizes that ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said. “Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who’s in need of support by police and investigators, as well as citizens of this city.”
Trump took to Twitter on Thursday to slam the actor, who had alleged that his attackers yelled comments relating to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
“What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA,” the president tweeted.
Law enforcement officials said Smollett sent himself a threatening letter, using racist and homophobic language, at the 20th Century Fox studio lot prior to the purported attack. When that failed to get attention, he hired two brothers to carry out the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary, police said.
Authorities said the two men, whom Chicago police had in custody last week, offered up information that shifted the trajectory of the case. One piece of evidence was a $3,500 check Smollett used to pay the brothers, police said. Officials said they believed the brothers wore gloves during the staged attack, but that scratches and bruises on Smollett were likely self-inflicted.
The brothers, now witnesses in the case, Johnson said, and they decided to confess the entirety of the plot during their 47th hour in custody, Johnson said.
“Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did and be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources we put into this,” Johnson said of Smollett.
The police superintendent described the last few weeks as “a publicity stunt” that gave the city of Chicago a scar it “didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.” He also slammed the media for giving the celebrity case special attention that other hate crimes don’t get.
Representatives for Smollett did not immediately comment on Thursday. On Wednesday night, his lawyers said in a statement that they “intend to conduct a thorough investigation and 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,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said.
Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment, which have consistently voiced their support for Smollett since January, appeared to take pause following the statements from Chicago police.
“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 said in a statement.
TNT has pulled an upcoming episode of its rap-battle series “Drop the Mic” that featured Smollett. The episode was set to air March 6 after having been postponed while the Smollett case was unfolding. TNT would not comment on whether the episode was taped before or after the Jan. 29 incident.
“We are pulling the episode in the interest of not being exploitative of an incredibly sensitive situation,” a TNT spokesperson said. “We are holding on airing his episode for now, and we are replacing it with the Raven-Symone vs. Ron Funches and Joey McIntyre vs. Joey Fatone episode.”
The show’s executive producer, Jensen Karp, tweeted that the show was “correctly” shelved.
Smollett’s evolving case has renewed dialogue about believing crime victims, particularly in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement and amid rampant divisiveness nationwide. As Smollett’s story unfolded, the LGBTQ advocate, who was treated as a victim since filing the police report, was swiftly backed by social justice groups condemning the possible hate crime and shedding light on injustices shouldered by queer people of color.
Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin reflected on the ordeal in a Twitter thread Thursday voicing his devastation and frustration.
“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt & disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Griffin said.
Times staff writer Richard Winton and the Associated Press contributed to this report.