Chicago's top cop blasts Jussie Smollett over "shameful" stunt

By Erin Donaghue

/ CBS News

Chicago police chief on Jussie Smollett arrest

Chicago — Chicago's top police officer expressed anger and frustration Thursday over what he called Jussie Smollett's "shameful" attempt to fabricate a hate crime for a "publicity stunt." The "Empire" actor's story that he was attacked Jan. 29 by masked assailants who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and hung a rope around his neck unraveled when two of Smollett's acquaintances, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, told investigators the actor paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, said Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.

Smollett has turned himself in on a felony count of filing a false police report and is due in court Thursday afternoon.

Chicago police express anger over Jussie Smollett case

Johnson said Smollett, 36, choreographed the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary. He castigated Smollett for putting the national spotlight on Chicago for something "that is both egregious and untrue," and said bogus police reports harm legitimate victims by wasting valuable police resources.

"When we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off," Johnson said. He said police were treating Smollett like a victim until then.

Speaking on CBSN following the press conference in Chicago, CBS News correspondent Dean Reynolds said he's covered Johnson for several years, and has "seldom heard him as angry as he was today."

"What he said was a mixture of contempt, disgust and basic anger," Reynolds said.

Johnson said Smollett hasn't made any statement to police since his arrest. His legal team, which now includes famed criminal defense attorney Mark Geragos, defended him in a statement after he was charged Wednesday night.

"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," the statement said. "Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."

Johnson gave credit to his detectives for a "patient and deliberate" investigation that he said began with giving Smollett the benefit of the doubt and eventually uncovered the truth after weeks of combing through video evidence and following up on leads. He called Smollett a "troubled young man who resorted to both drastic and illegal actions."

Jussie Smollett turned himself in, charged with filing false police report

"I'm offended by what's happened, and I'm also angry," Johnson said. "I love the city of the Chicago and the Chicago Police Department, warts and all. But this publicity stunt was a scar Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve."

Johnson expressed dismay that the alleged hoax received national media attention for weeks. He said that Chicago police investigated the case as they would any other hate crime, and insisted it didn't take away resources from investigations into the shootings and homicides that have plagued the city. He also took the media to task, calling for the same level of coverage for victims of gun violence.

Johnson said Thursday he spoke not only as the police superintendent, but as a black man who grew up in Chicago and understands the city's racial divide. He said Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career" and said he was baffled as to why anyone, especially an African-American man, "would use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations."

"How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?" Johnson said. "How could this individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?"

Johnson said the department would continue to investigate hate crimes with the same vigor, but feared that victims of hate crimes will "be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn't happen."

He called for Smollett to admit his actions and apologize.

"Absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared, admitting what he did, and then being man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this," Johnson said.

First published on February 21, 2019

© 2019 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Erin Donaghue

Erin Donaghue covers crime for CBSNews.com's Crimesider.

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