The Chicago police chief who arrested Jussie Smollett for staging a race-baiting attack on himself said Friday that he would have let the actor go free if he’d just apologized and admitted that he was lying early on.
Eddie Johnson, head of the Chicago Police Department in 2019, wouldn’t have pursued charges against the “Empire” actor if he’d simply admitted he’d made it all up, he told “Morning in America.”
“I want people to understand this. This was not the most heinous crime of the century. He didn’t kill anybody. He didn’t blow up a building,” Johnson said.
“We would have been more than happy with just an apology at the end of all that we uncovered but for some reason, he just wanted to keep going down this road that he was actually a victim.”
Smollett was found guilty Thursday on five counts of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report claiming he’d been jumped by a pair of racist and homophobic attackers in January 2019.
While on the case, Johnson — who was later fired for misconduct in December 2019 after he was found drunk in a parked patrol car — said he knew quickly that Smollett was lying about being brutalized.
The former top cop said a video showing the actor with a noose hanging around his neck at his home, long after the crime was committed, was the first red flag.
“I have to be honest, when I first saw the video of him in his apartment with the noose around his neck I was concerned because I don’t think there’s many black people in America with a noose around their neck and wouldn’t immediately take it off,” said Johnson, who is also black.
“And the way he was so nonchalant handling it gave me cause for concern. But I would not let the police department make him an offender until the evidence just got to be so overwhelming,” he said.
He added, “To use a symbol like a noose to promote yourself is just unconscionable to me.”
Another suspicious sign was that Smollett’s Subway tuna sandwich, which he told cops he’d been walking home with at the time of the attack, was still in good shape after the supposed beating.
“He comes back, gets attacked in a supposed hate crime, and during all this scuffle, they poured bleach on him, when he got up and went into his apartment building, he got up and still had that Subway sandwich with him. That doesn’t happen,” Johnson said.
“When people get attacked like that, whatever belongings they have out there, they usually leave it until the police can go back with them because they’re afraid,” he added.
“This guy had the sandwich in his hand and it had never been touched. That was a real tipping point to us that something was amiss,” he said.
Johnson said police and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel got fired up about the case because Smollett “stained our city” and wasted police “manpower.”
But he said he still “made it a point” to treat Smollett like a victim until the evidence was undeniable.
“As the days went on and we started recovering that video, it became fairly obvious that something was amiss,” Johnson said.
The tipping point was when he arrested and interviewed the brothers Abimbola and Abel Osundairo, who said Smollett had paid them to “fake beat him up.”
“When we arrested them and brought them in, when I saw the videos of their statements, then I could no longer protect [Smollett],” Johnson said.