Actor Jussie Smollett was charged with lying to police when he claimed he was attacked and beaten on the streets of Chicago by two masked men shouting racist and homophobic slurs, police said.

US actor Jussie Smollett attends the Trevor Live Los Angeles Gala 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. December 2, 2018.
US actor Jussie Smollett attends the Trevor Live Los Angeles Gala 2018, in Beverly Hills, California. December 2, 2018. (AFP)

"Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has been released from jail after posting bail.

Smollett walked out of the Cook County jail in Chicago on Thursday about two hours after a hearing in which the judge set his bond at $100,000.

The actor walked out in a group of people and to a waiting SUV. He didn't speak to the large media contingent waiting outside.

Smollett is charged with felony disorderly conduct.

Police allege that Smollett hired two brothers to help stage the attack, which he described to police as racist and homophobic in nature.

Smollett is gay and black.

His lawyers said at the hearing that the actor denies the allegations against him.

Chicago Police Smollett Superintendent Eddie Johnson on Thursday said Smollett had staged a racist and homophobic attack because he was unhappy about his salary and wanted to promote his career.

Before the attack, Smollett also sent a threatening letter that targeted himself to the studio in Chicago where “Empire” is shot, Johnson said. 

Smollett turned himself in and was arrested earlier on Thursday to face accusations that he filed a false police report when he told authorities he was attacked in Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck, police said. 

“He took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson told reporters at a news conference.

Smollett, a 36-year-old black, openly gay actor on the hip-hop TV drama "Empire," ignited a firestorm on social media by telling police on January 29 that two apparent supporters of US President Donald Trump struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him.

"Felony criminal charges have been approved by @CookCountySAO against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report. Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest," police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said on Twitter.

The New York Times, citing unnamed law enforcement sources, said Smollett had been indicted by an Illinois grand jury that found probable cause that he had staged the attack.

TRT World's Sally Ayhan reports from Washington.

No video, no proof

The whispers about Smollett started with reports that he had not fully cooperated with police after telling authorities he was attacked.

Then detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find video of the beating. Later, two brothers were taken into custody for questioning but were released after two days, with police saying they were no longer suspects.

Following three weeks of mounting suspicions, Smollett was charged Wednesday with making a false police report, a charge that could bring up to three years in prison and force the actor, who is black and gay, to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a January 29 beating.

In less than a month, the 36-year-old changed from being the seemingly sympathetic victim of a hate crime to being accused of fabricating the entire thing.

Police tried Wednesday evening to get in touch with Smollett's attorneys to negotiate his surrender. Officers did not have a time frame for how long the actor would be given.

"We are trying to be diplomatic and reasonable, and we're hoping he does the same," Guglielmi said.

The felony disorderly conduct charge emerged on the same day that detectives and the two brothers testified before a grand jury.  Smollett's attorneys met with prosecutors and police, but it was unknown what they discussed or whether Smollett attended the meeting.

In a statement, attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said Smollett "enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked."

The announcement of the charges followed a flurry of activity in recent days, including lengthy police interviews of the brothers, a search of their home and their release after officers cleared them.

Investigators have not said what the brothers told detectives or what evidence detectives collected. But it became increasingly clear that serious questions had arisen about Smollett's account — something police signalled on Friday when they announced a "significant shift in the trajectory" of the probe after the brothers were freed.

Smollett, who plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show, said he was attacked as he was walking home from a downtown Subway sandwich shop. 

He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled "This is MAGA country" — an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" — before fleeing.

Earlier Wednesday, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement saying Smollett "continues to be a consummate professional on set" and that his character is not being written off the show. The series is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.

The studio's statement followed reports that Smollett's role was being slashed amid the police investigation.

After reviewing hundreds of hours of video, detectives did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the brothers at O'Hare Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.

The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola "Abel" and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett.

The day after they were released, police said the men provided information that had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation," and detectives requested another interview with Smollett.

Police said one of the men had appeared on "Empire," and Smollett's attorneys said one of the men is the actor's personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video. The actor released his debut album, "Sum of My Music," last year.

Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. The police spokesman said the brothers appeared before the panel to "lock in their testimony."

Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers' attorney said the two men testified for about two and a half hours.

"There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we're going to correct this," Gloria Schmidt said.

She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. "You don't need immunity when you have the truth," she said.

She also said her clients received money from Smollett, but she did not elaborate.

Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Senator Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

Referring to a published account of the attack, President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that "it doesn't get worse, as far as I'm concerned."

Prior record

But several hours after Smollett was declared a suspect and the charges announced, there was little reaction from celebrities online.

Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they have no prior criminal record.

Smollett has a record — one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a licence. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.

Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly monthlong investigation, including the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.

The size of the tab is anyone's guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.

Weisberg recently represented a client who was charged with making a false report after surveillance video discredited her account of being robbed by three men at O'Hare Airport.

For an investigation that took a single day, his client had to split restitution of $8,400, Weisberg said. 

In Smollett's case, "I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Source: TRTWorld and agencies