U.S. actor Jussie Smollett due in court over alleged bogus assault report

CHICAGO, USA –  US TV actor Jussie Smollett is to appear in court on Thursday, February 21 after being arrested and charged with lying to authorities about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago. 

Jussie Smollett, a gay and black actor who stars in the Fox network drama Empire, is facing felony criminal charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report. 

The alleged incident initially seemed an example of growing intolerance in the US and led to an outpouring of support for the actor. But over the following weeks, the 36-year-old went from victim to suspect. (READ: Black, gay U.S. TV actor attacked in 'possible hate crime')

Smollett "is under arrest and in custody of detectives," Chicago police wrote on Twitter, adding that there would be a press briefing on Thursday morning.

A spokesman tweeted that the actor was due to appear in Cook County Criminal Court for a bond hearing at 1:30 pm (1830 GMT).

Smollett claimed that on January 29, two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago while yelling racist and homophobic slurs. He also told police that the attackers poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck.

"Felony criminal charges have been approved by Cook County State's Attorney's Office against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report," Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement late Wednesday. 

Smollett's attorneys promised to conduct their own investigation and 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 in a statement. 

The actor reported to police that one of his alleged assailants yelled "This is MAGA country"  a reference to US President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan. 

But detectives grew suspicious of the account after interrogating two men who reportedly revealed that they were hired to stage the incident. 

Chicago TV station WBBM said the men, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, claimed Smollett was unhappy that a threatening letter he had earlier received at the Chicago studios where Empire is filmed had not received enough attention.  

The TV series describes the fortunes of a hip-hop mogul and his family battling over control of a multi-million-dollar music company.

Rush to judgment 

Gloria Schmidt, the brothers' attorney, told reporters Wednesday that the men testified under oath about what they knew without a plea agreement and did not expect to be charged with a crime.

"They're not guilty of anything," Schmidt said. 

The initial news of Smollett's claims led to widespread condemnation and shock. An outpouring of support came from public figures including Emma Watson, Katy Perry, and Joe Biden. 

Senators and Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris both called the incident "an attempted modern-day lynching."

President Trump described the alleged attack as "horrible."

But Smollett's story appeared to unravel, and has since become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

"Many politicians and journalists seemed to suspend all critical thought in a campaign to indict not just Mr Smollett's attackers but the country as a whole," opinion writer Noah Rothman wrote in The New York Times.

A 2018 analysis published by The Center for Public Integrity found more than 2.4 million crimes between 2012 and 2016 in which hate was suspected to be a motivating factor. 

FBI statistics show hate crimes rose 17% in the US in 2017, especially against African-American and Jewish populations.  

"The real tragedy in all of this is that hate crimes are, in fact, on the rise in the Trump era," Rothman said.  Rappler.com