Chicago Police Superintendent Reveals Key Turning Point in Jussie Smollett Investigation
Sup. Eddie Johnson told 'Good Morning America' that the cooperation of the alleged attackers helped crack the case.
In an interview with Good Morning America on Monday morning (Feb. 25), Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson talked about the damage done to his department by the false attack story allegedly concocted by Empire star Jussie Smollett and how his investigators cracked the case.
“Let me tell, you, Robin, there’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet, and does not support the version he gave,” Johnson told GMA anchor Robin Roberts. “There’s still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence and testimony that just simply does not support his version of what happened.”
Smollett was arrested last week released on $10,000 bond after being charged with suspicion of filing a false report about an alleged Jan. 29 incident in which he claimed two men attacked him using racial and homophobic slurs, threw bleach on him and put a noose-like string around his neck. Johnson said last week that Smollett orchestrated the attack in order to take "advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."
On Monday, Johnson further illuminated the pain the incident has inflicted on his already embattled department. "I just want people to understand that's a damaging thing to do to a city and to a police department," he said, adding that he's personally acutely aware of the damage caused by racism and the deployment of hateful symbols such as a noose. "The city of Chicago police department has its issues with racism and excessive force and all of that, and I am acutely aware of that. But we didn't earn this particular incident, and I just refuse to let us have to take that shot if I have evidence to the contrary."
Smollett, who is black and gay and plays an openly gay character on Fox's Empire, has insisted all along that he was attacked by two men, but Johnson said evidence uncovered during the extensive investigation has convinced his officers that Smollett staged the attack, reportedly because he was unhappy with his pay on the long-running musical drama on which he plays singer Jamal Lyon. Smollett and his lawyers have denied that he was involved in staging the alleged attack.
Sup. Johnson told Roberts that the investigation was considered a hate crime probe all along, based, in part, on Smollett's claim to police that even though the attackers wore masks "he [Smollett] was able to say that he could see around their eyes that they were white-skinned." The alleged attackers in the incident have been described as two black siblings, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who reportedly knew the actor prior to the incident.
Johnson added that Chicago PD treated Smollett like the victim in the case all along, but after officers arrested the brothers following an overseas flight, they held them for 48 hours, with some crucial evidence in the case emerging at the 47th hour. "I refused to let CPD characterize him [Smollett] as a suspect unless we had concrete evidence," he said. Though CPD had already gathered quite a bit of evidence before that point, in the hour before the police would have had to release the men, Johnson said they flipped to become cooperating witnesses.
"Their lawyer went in there to talk to them and whatever she said to them apparently got through to them to apparently tell the truth about what happened," he said. GMA also revealed a photo of the $3,500 check allegedly Smollett wrote to the two men as payment for the staged attack. Smollett reportedly returned to the Empire set last week, but after initially voicing their strong support for the actor and saying his future on the show was secure, producers announced last week that Smollett's character would be written out of the final two episodes of the upcoming season, which kicks off on March 13; spokespeople for the show would not comment on whether any changes would be made to the already shot episodes featuring Smollett.
And while Johnson stressed that Smollett is presumed innocent until proven guilty, he stressed that there was "a lot" more evidence that his department hasn't revealed yet, even after already offering up what he agreed was a large amount of detail "up front" at last week's press conference.
Watch the full interview below.