Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said Monday on “Good Morning America” that he gave “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett every benefit of the doubt that he was the victim of an actual hate crime.
“I refused to let CPD characterize him as a suspect unless we had concrete evidence,” Johnson told GMA anchor Robin Roberts.
“The entire time that we investigated the incident he was treated like a victim,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that only after finding overwhelming evidence to the contrary did he take the unusual step of publicly debunking Smollett’s story, which had weighed heavy on a city with it’s own racial baggage.
“The city of Chicago has its issues, the Chicago Police Department has its issues with racism and excessive force and all of that, and I’m acutely aware of that. But we didn’t earn this particular incident and I just refuse to let us have to take that shot if I have evidence to the contrary. So I just want people to understand that it’s a damaging thing to do to a city and to a police department, so it’s my responsibility to ensure that the record gets set straight.”
TIMELINE: The Jussie Smollett case
Johnson said Smollett’s story fell apart in earnest when the Chicago brothers he allegedly paid to stage the attack against him came clean — on the advice of their attorney — in the 47th hour they were in police custody. Investigators could only hold them for 48 hours, he said.
“We didn’t have the facts to support him being involved in it until that 47th hour, and it’s important for people to recognize that it’s not the Chicago police saying he did something, it’s the evidence, the facts and the witnesses that are saying this.”
Smollett staged the hate crime, as well as a threatening letter sent to the offices of the Chicago studio where he worked, because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted to garner sympathy and raise his public profile, Johnson alleged last week in an impassioned press conference.
Smollett became a household name as the story went viral in the days after the attack.
His downfall was equally swift. Executives at Fox announced recently that he’d been written off “Empire” — the show he’d been filming in Chicago at the time he alleged the attack Jan. 29.
Johnson said investigators also have a bounty of evidence they have yet to reveal that proves Smollett’s story is bogus.
“There’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet that does not support his innocence … physical, video and testimony.”
Johnson’s GMA appearance comes 12 days after Smollett appeared on the same morning television show to offer exclusive details about the two men he said yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him before punching, kicking and pouring a liquid he suspected was bleach onto him.
Smollett also claimed one of the men yelled “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Smollett has said he’s innocent.
He was charged last week with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report and was released from custody after posting bond.