Chicago Police Sup. Eddie Johnson said Empire actor Jussie Smollett “still has the presumption of innocence and he still has his opportunity in court if he chooses to go that route.”
Johnson told Good Morning America host Robin Roberts on Monday that, “there’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet that doesn’t support the version that he gave us. There’s still a lot of video evidence, physical evidence and testimony that doesn’t support what he said happened.”
Johnson said that detectives still considered the Beautiful singer as a victim and not a suspect until the final hour before they had to release the two brothers who were arrested in connection with the case. If the brothers were charged, Smollett would still be seen as the victim.
“I refused to characterize Jussie Smollett as a suspect unless we had concrete evidence,” Johnson said. “The 47th hour that we had those two individuals in custody is when it changed.”
Abel and Ola Osundairo, the two brothers who have worked on Empire, became cooperating witnesses, Johnson revealed.
“We worked very closely with their lawyer, and (she) went in there to talk to them, and whatever she said to them apparently got through to them — to just tell the truth about what happened,” Johnson said. “And that’s what they decided to do.”
Jonhson shared that he and the detectives working on the case had some doubts about the actor’s story.
“There were some questions,” Johnson said. “There’s always questions when people are describing incidents to us.”
“What’s important for people to realize is, it’s not the Chicago Police saying he did something. It’s the evidence, the facts, the witnesses that are saying this,” he said.
Johnson said that the key piece of evidence was a cancelled cheque signed by Smollett. The brothers said Smollett “paid them $3,500 with a cheque … to carry out this incident.”
Smollett’s lawyers claim the cheque, made out to the Osundairos, was for personal training sessions and nutrition plans.
Johnson said that the decision to use a noose in the attack was offensive. Smollett had claimed that two men threw a rope around his neck during the alleged attack.
“The Chicago Police Department has its issues with racism and excessive force and all of that. And I’m acutely aware of that,” he said. “But we didn’t earn this particular incident, and I just refuse to let us take that shot if we have evidence of the contrary.
“I want people to understand that (filing a false police report) is a damaging thing to a city and to a police department. It’s my responsibility to make sure the record gets set straight.”
Johnson said that he hopes the controversy surrounding the Smollett case doesn’t make it harder for victims of hate crimes to continue to come forward and report incidents.
“There are real victims of crimes of that nature, hate crimes, and I just hope people don’t treat them with skepticism,” he said. “This is one particular incident, and it has to stand on its own merits.”
On Monday, a Chicago judge said Smollett can travel out-of-state to meet his lawyers while he’s free on bond on charges after he falsely reported being attacked by two masked men.
Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Smollett’s lawyers, said lawyer Mark Geragos, who’s based in Los Angeles, is Smollett’s lead lawyer.
She says a defence lawyer asked Monday that Smollett be allowed to travel to California and New York for meetings with his legal team.
— With files from the Associated Press
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