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Actor Jussie Smollett staged attack, charged with felony

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Actor Jussie Smollett claimed to be the victim of a racist and homophobic attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the hip-hop TV drama “Empire,” Chicago’s police chief said on Thursday.

Smollett, a 36-year-old black, openly gay actor, has been arrested after he was charged with lying to police in connection with the alleged attack on Jan. 29.

“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told a news conference, adding that the actor paid $3,500 to two brothers to stage the supposed hate crime.

“This stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with this salary. He concocted a story about being attacked,” Johnson said. “We gave him the benefit of the doubt.”

Smollett had claimed that two apparent supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump had struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured an unknown substance over him.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office approved felony criminal charges against Smollett for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report, police said on Wednesday. He has a bond hearing scheduled for later on Thursday.

Last week, police arrested two brothers who were recognized from surveillance footage of the area where Smollett said the attack occurred. One of the brothers worked with Smollett on “Empire,” according to police and their lawyer.

Police released the brothers two days later without charges. They confessed and became cooperating witnesses, Johnson said.

Since the alleged attack, Smollett had received support on social media, including from several celebrities and Democratic presidential candidates. But others were skeptical of the incident, which Smollett said occurred around 2 a.m. on a Chicago street during one of the city’s coldest weeks in recent history.

In an interview with “Good Morning America” last week, Smollett said he was angry that some people questioned his story, and he suggested the disbelief might come from racial bias.

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Officials from 20th Century Fox Television, which airs “Empire,” did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Johnson called for Smollett to apologize to the city.

“How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims?” the police superintendent said.

Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Additional reporting by Gabriella Borter, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Matthew Lewis

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