Jussie Smollett's Chance at Comeback Could Be Derailed by New Documents
The release of thousands of pages of court records in the Chicago case complicate the embattled 'Empire' actor’s hopes to return to Hollywood.
Late last week, thousands of pages of documents in the Jussie Smollett case, including emails, text messages, police reports and court records, were released.
While their release has laid bare some of the inner workings of the Chicago District Attorney’s office, including its fraught relationship with the city’s police department, the documents have raised more questions than they’ve answered about the spectacle surrounding the Empire actor.
As of early May, Empire writers were speaking openly about the possibility of Smollett's return to the show. And the actor appeared eager to continue working after his arrest and the subsequent dropping of charges, saying in a statement that he “appreciated” 20th Century Fox’s decision to extend his contract and keep his character Jamal’s future “open” for the upcoming sixth season.
Now that’s more in doubt than ever. While Smollett, through his attorneys, has lauded the release of the entire investigative case file, nothing in the documents would seem to improve Smollett’s chances of rehabilitating his career in Hollywood or to repair his shattered public image. Instead, the picture that emerges serves to reinforce allegations of a man buying cocaine and ecstasy while plotting a fake hate crime against himself.
A Chicago grand jury indicted Smollett in February with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct after a police investigation found that the actor had lied about being the victim of a hate crime in January, during which he claimed he was physically assaulted by two men wearing MAGA hats who shouted racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and hung a noose around his neck. A lengthy police investigation concluded Smollett had paid the two brothers he sporadically employed as his physical trainers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, $3,500 to help stage the attack because he was unhappy about his salary on Empire.
After the indictment, the DA’s office unexpectedly dropped all the charges, infuriating Chicago Superintendent of Police Eddie T. Johnson and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel, who denounced the DA’s decision, calling it a “whitewash” of justice.
Whereas Smollett had garnered a loud and vocal base of support after the initial charges against him were dropped, those voices had started to dim even before the latest dumps, as the murkiness around his story continued to deepen. The document release did little to revive what support he did have. The writers on Empire have remained quiet. A @standwithjussie handle and hashtag, which calls for fans to “sign the petition to bring him back for the next season of empire” had just seven followers, two likes and little-to-no momentum. Calls to Hilary Rosen, who represents Smollett at the PR firm SKDKnickerborker, which has been mounting a campaign to resuscitate the actor’s public image, went unanswered, and the voicemail was full.
The first batch of documents, including the police case file, was unsealed by a judge after FOIA requests by multiple media outlets, including The Hollywood Reporter. The DA’s office released several hundred pages of text messages, emails and court documents.
Among other revelations, the documents provide new details about Smollett’s attempts to procure drugs from Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the two brothers who helped him stage and carry out the hoax hate crime.
“N***a you still got a molly connect,” Smollett texted to one of the brothers in September, a few months before the alleged hoax. “Hahahaha… Imma need a good fo pills Haha.”
Police files indicate that Smollett paid the brothers repeatedly via Venmo and Paypal for ecstasy, cocaine and marijuana in February, in the days leading up to the staged attack.
They also reveal a more detailed portrait of the communications between the three men to plan and carry out the hoax. Smollett asked the brothers to meet “face to face” to discuss plans. Police records indicate these details were “corroborated on video and by GPS data.”
According to redacted police records, Smollett had a “planning meeting” with the two brothers, during which they set the time and details of the attack. Olabinjo Osundairo later told police he deliberately tried not to harm Smollett during the purported attack, only going so far as to rub his knuckles into the actors face to make it look bruised.
Smollett allegedly feared that the other brother, Abimbola, might hurt him and asked him not to participate in the staged beating. According to one released document, one brother was afraid to escalate the confrontation for fear of being shot by police, further strengthening the allegation that Smollett lied.
If anything, the new revelations will give studio executives more reason to distance themselves from the controversial actor. Empire’s writing staff has already written Smollett out of the final episodes of the show. 20th Century Fox Television and Imagine Entertainment extended the actor’s option for season six, but also said in a statement that they had “no plans” to bring the embattled actor back on the show.
Adding to his woes, Smollett is still fending off a lawsuit brought by Chicago police, who sued Smollett for $130,000, hoping to recoup overtime costs related to their weeks-long investigation. Smollett didn’t pay and with fines and penalties could now be on the hook for nearly $400,000. That case is being litigated. Meanwhile, support for the actor continues to dwindle. Vocal backers, like The Roots joint front man Quest Love de la Rose, who had tweeted “Told Y’all” when the charges were dropped in April, is now keeping quiet on social media.
Smollett has continued to maintain his innocence, insisting the attack happened as he described it. Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, declined to comment. The Osundairo brothers are suing Geragos for defamation.