After calling the statement of evidence presented to him “outrageous” and “despicable,” a Chicago judge has set a $100,000 bond for Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who was charged Wednesday with staging a hate crime against himself last month.
The 36-year-old actor, who also had to turn in his passport, said little other than giving his name at the beginning of the bond hearing, according to Chicago Fox 32. But Cook County assistant state attorney Ressa Lanier’s four-page bond proffer offers an inside look at Smollett’s detailed plan for the staged attack, his relationship with his two accomplices, and the mounting case against him.
According to a copy of the proffer obtained by Vulture, Smollett and Abimola “Abel” Osundairo became friends in the fall of 2017. During the course of their friendship, they exercised, socialized, and worked together on Empire, where Abel Osundairo worked the stand-in for Toby Onwumere, the actor who plays Smollett’s love interest on the series. Citing text messages between the two men, the documents also show that Abel provided Smollett with ecstasy on several occasions.
On the morning of January 25, the documents show, Smollett texted Osundairo: “Might need your help on the down low. You around to meet up and talk face to face?” When they met, Smollett expressed his “displeasure” with the handling of a racist and homophobic death threat received three days earlier by Cinespace Chicago Film Studios, where Empire is filmed. During a press conference Thursday morning, Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson claimed that Smollett faked the letter and that he was dissatisfied with his salary on the series. (The FBI is currently conducting forensic analysis of the letter.)
After discussing the letter, Smollett “then stated that he wanted to stage an attack where Abel would appear to batter him” and suggested that Abel’s older brother Ola help with the attack, according to the proffer. Ola Osundairo has appeared on Empire as an extra. (The brothers, who are of Nigerian descent, were born in the United States.) When the three men met later in the afternoon of January 25, Smollett detailed his plans.
“He wanted them to appear to attack him on the evening of Jan. 28 near his apartment building in Streeterville,” the documents show. “He also stated that he wanted the brothers to catch his attention by calling him [racist and homophobic slurs]. He further detailed that he wanted Abel to attack him but not hurt him too badly and give him a chance to appear to fight back. He also included that he wanted Ola to place a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell, ‘This is MAGA country!’” Smollett then gave the brothers $100 to buy rope, gasoline, ski masks, gloves, and red baseball caps resembling Make America Great Again hats. According to the proffer, police have corroborated the meeting and text messages through pod videos and cellular phone tower data of Smollett’s cell phone.
On January 27, Smollett picked up the brothers and drove them to the scene outside his apartment building where he wanted the staged attack to take place. “At that time, Smollett instructed the brothers not to bring their phones with them during the attack and he pointed at a surveillance camera on the corner, which he believed would capture the incident,” the documents state. Smollett then told the brothers to pour bleach on him instead of gasoline. After he drove them home, he gave them a backdated check for $3,500. The next day, the brothers used the $100 bill Smollett gave them to purchase the supplies, which police have corroborated with video and a receipt. Abel Osundairo also deposited the check that day.
The plan changed when Smollett, who flew to New York City and was due back late on January 28, got delayed because of the weather. Smollett’s plane landed around 12:30 a.m. on January 29 and he called Abel Osundairo a few minutes later to schedule the attack for 2 a.m., according to the documents. The brothers took an Uber from their home, got out, and jumped in a cab to ride to the meeting place. The taxi’s in-car video captures the brothers flagging the cab and riding in the back seat, the documents show.
Smollett returned to his apartment around 1:30 a.m. and left his building about 15 minutes later. Because he was late meeting the Osundairos, they were forced to wait on a nearby bench, which was also captured on video. When the actor arrived, “The brothers staged the attack just how Smollett had instructed them,” according to the documents. It lasted 45 seconds and it was just outside the view of the nearby camera that Smollett had pointed out to the brothers the previous day.
Police found video evidence of the brothers fleeing the scene and jumping in a taxi at the Hyatt Regency Hotel across the river. They got out of the cab near their home, at the same location where Uber had picked them up. Smollett’s manager called police at 2:27 a.m. and police arrived at his apartment at 2:42 a.m. Smollett still had a rope draped around his neck, which was captured on an officer’s body camera. Smollett asked them to shut off their cameras, according to the documents.
Smollett described being punched while his attackers yelled homophobic and racist slurs. He told police there was a camera that had captured the attack on the street and described the primary attacker as “masked,” but that he could see the area around his eyes was white-skinned. He also told police he’d received an anonymous hate call on January 26 in which the caller used a homophobic slur.
Cell phone records obtained by police show that Smollett continued communicating with the brothers right after the attack, and later when they were in Nigeria and Turkey. When they returned on February 13, the Osundairo brothers were arrested at the airport. They agreed to cooperate with the investigation, which led to Smollett being charged on Wednesday with filing a false police report. Late Thursday night, Smollett’s lawyers issued a statement saying that his presumption of innocence had been “trampled upon” by the police department’s press conference.
“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” the statement reads. “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a Mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Smollett, who will not appear in the last two episodes of Empire’s fifth season, is due back in court on March 14.
GLAAD and Color of Change issued a joint statement late Thursday urging victims of hate crimes to speak out, despite the turn in Smollett’s case. “As we learn more details about Jussie’s arrest, we remain focused on the urgent fight against the very real issues of racism, homophobia, and hate violence. FBI data shows that hate crimes are on the rise nationwide and that fact cannot get lost in the discussion around Jussie’s arrest. While Jussie’s situation is troubling and concerning, anyone who is a victim of hate violence should never be hesitant to speak out and share their stories.”
This is an ongoing story and has been updated throughout.