Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Monday batted down media reports that the thousands of dollars “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett paid two brothers was actually for personal training and nutrition, not for staging a phony racist and anti-gay attack against him as authorities allege.
Citing unnamed sources, entertainment website TMZ reported over the weekend that a $3,500 check was for the brothers’ help in getting Smollett more physically fit for the filming of a music video.
But in an interview on “Good Morning America that aired Monday morning, Johnson stuck by police claims that the money was for the brothers’ help in orchestrating the attack early in the morning on Jan. 29.
“They said that he paid them $3,500 with a check,” Johnson told co-host Robin Roberts.
“But did they say what it was for?” Roberts asked.
“Yeah, to carry out this incident,” Johnson replied.
Smollett was charged last Thursday with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report when he told Chicago police that two men shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him, hit him and wrapped a rope around his neck while yelling, “This is MAGA country!”
Johnson’s appearance on “Good Morning America” comes almost two weeks after Smollett was interviewed on the same show and said he was angry that people were questioning his story.
The two brothers were taken into custody the night before the interview aired. The brothers were held for two days, during which they told detectives they were paid thousands of dollars by the actor to stage the attack, authorities have said.
On Monday, Johnson told Roberts there is more evidence against Smollett that hasn’t been disclosed yet.
“There’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet that does not support the version that he gave,” Johnson said. “There’s still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence and testimony that just simply doesn’t support his version of what happened.”
While emphasizing the presumption of innocence, Johnson reiterated concerns he expressed last week that the case could discourage legitimate hate crime victims from coming forward.
“I just hope people don’t judge other folks that are victims of these types of crimes because this is just one particular incident, and that’s the damaging part of it. We damage the city’s reputation,” Johnson said. “There are real victims of crimes of that nature. Hate crimes. And I just hope that people don’t treat them with skepticism. You know, this is one particular incident and it has to stand on its own merits.”
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