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Jussie Smollett blasted by Chicago police for exploiting city's racial divide for personal gain

A judge set Smollett's bail at $100,000 during his first court appearance.

The head of the Chicago Police Department accused actor Jussie Smollett on Thursday of staging an attack on himself last month because he was unhappy with his salary on the show "Empire."

Superintendent Eddie Johnson also said Smollett sent himself a letter containing racist language and, when that did not work, he paid $3,500 to orchestrate the attack.

"This announcement today recognizes that 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Johnson said at a news conference.

“Why would anyone, especially an African-American, use a noose ... to further his public profile?" asked Johnson, who is black.

Smollett's attorneys responded Thursday night, calling the day's events "an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system."

"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," they said in a statement.

On Wednesday, the attorneys announced plans to "mount an aggressive defense."

Image: Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett booking photo released on Feb. 21, 2019 by Chicago Police Dept.Chicago Police Dept.

Smollett, 36, was arrested early Thursday morning, hours after he was charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report claiming he was attacked by two masked men who hurled racial and homophobic slurs at him in Chicago on Jan. 29.

During his first court appearance on Thursday for a bond hearing, Smollett appeared frustrated as he rolled his eyes and sighed as a criminal complaint was read.

The judge set his bail at $100,000, and Smollett has to post $10,000 in cash before he can be released.

According to documents read in court, Smollett paid brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo — whom police said the actor hired to carry out the alleged assault — $100 to buy the supplies they would need. He then showed them where he wanted the staged attack to happen.

Risa Lanier, with the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, said during a news conference after the hearing that Smollett allegedly sent a text Abel Osundairo, 25, saying, "might need your help on the low" and then asked him to meet in person to talk.

That's when Smollett laid out his plan for the alleged attack, according to Lainer. Smollett later got Ola Osundairo, 27, in on his plan and told the brothers that they were to "catch his attention" by yelling racial and homophobic slurs before hitting him.

Lainer said Smollett also instructed the brothers not to bring their cellphones to the location where the incident would happen, told them not to hurt him too badly, and to give him a chance to fight back.

The staged assault lasted roughly 45 seconds, she said. Smollett was in communication with the brothers before and after the incident, according to Lainer.

Smollett, who is black and gay, had said his attackers put a noose around his neck and poured what he said was bleach on him. Chicago police initially investigated the incident as a "possible hate crime," but on Wednesday said the actor was a suspect.

During the investigation, Chicago police released pictures from a surveillance camera near the attack that showed two men detectives said were "potential persons of interest." The two men, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, were taken into custody on Feb. 13 but released two days later without charges.

Police said the brothers were no longer suspects and were cooperating with the investigation. A police source told NBC News that the probe had shifted into whether Smollett staged the assault and paid the brothers.

Police Superintendent Johnson said earlier Thursday that Smollett paid the men with a check. During the staged attack, the brothers wore gloves and "punched him a little bit," the police superintendent said. He said he believes the scratches and bruises on Smollett's face were "most likely self-inflicted."

Detectives also believe Smollett wanted the assault captured on surveillance camera, but did not realize the camera near where the incident happened was facing in the wrong direction.

"To stage a hate crime of that nature, when he knew as a celebrity it would get a lot of attention … is just despicable," Johnson said.

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

President Donald Trump was among one of the first people to lash out at Smollett on social media.

"What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?" he tweeted, tagging Smollett's Twitter profile.

Smollett's manager, who was on the phone with the actor during the alleged attack, told authorities he heard the attackers say "This is MAGA country."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel released a statement Thursday morning saying Smollett put his "perceived self-interest" ahead of the city's principles but it "will never trump Chicago's collective spirit."

LGBTQ media advocacy group GLAAD and civil rights advocacy organization Color Of Change issued a joint statement Thursday that said: "As we learn more details about Jussie’s arrest, we remain focused on the urgent fight against the very real issues of racism, homophobia, and hate violence."

"FBI data shows that hate crimes are on the rise nationwide and that fact cannot get lost in the discussion around Jussie’s arrest. While Jussie’s situation is troubling and concerning, anyone who is a victim of hate violence should never be hesitant to speak out and share their stories," the statement continued.

If convicted of the felony disorderly conduct charge, Smollett could face probation or up to three years in prison, a Cook County State’s Attorney office spokeswoman told NBC Chicago. Johnson said Thursday that the FBI is handling the investigation into the letter.

Smollett's claims that he was attacked began to stir up questions from social media users when police said they were not able to find surveillance video of the incident. The "Empire" actor responded to critics during an interview on ABC's "Good Morning America" saying if he had said his attackers were minorities "doubters would have supported me a lot much more."

Fox studio said in a statement Thursday that they "understood the seriousness of this matter" and were evaluating the situation." A day earlier, the studio described Smollett as a "consummate professional" and said he was "not being written out of the show."

TNT said in a statement that it would not be airing an episode of its celebrity rap-battle show "Drop the Mic" that featured Smollett.

“We are pulling the episode in the interest of not being exploitative of an incredibly sensitive situation,” a spokesperson said.