Jussie Smollett to serve jail sentence in protective custody, not unusual for high-profile and other at-risk detainees
He will be housed in his own cell “monitored by security cameras in the cell and by an officer wearing a body-worn camera who is stationed at the entrance of the cell to ensure that Mr. Smollett is under direct observation at all times,” the sheriff’s office said Friday.
Jussie Smollett will be held in protective custody at Cook County Jail — alone in a cell monitored continuously by cameras and guards — while serving his sentence for staging a hate crime against himself.
The action is neither unexpected nor unusual: High-profile and other at-risk detainees are usually kept segregated from the jail’s general population, which numbers just over 6,000.
For the former star of the television show “Empire,” that means he will be housed in his own cell “monitored by security cameras in the cell and by an officer wearing a body-worn camera who is stationed at the entrance of the cell to ensure that Mr. Smollett is under direct observation at all times,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement Friday.
He will be allowed “substantial time” outside his cell in the common areas on his tier and will be “able to use the telephone, watch television and interact with staff,” the office said.
However, “during such times out of the cell, other detainees will not be present in the common areas,” the office added.
Smollett was sentenced Thursday to 30 months probation, with Judge James Linn ordering him to serve the first 150 days behind bars, as well as pay a $25,000 fine and $120,000 to the city of Chicago as restitution for the cost of the extensive investigation into his bogus claims.
Smollett is likely to only serve 75 days in custody because he is eligible for “day-for-day” credit for time served.
After Linn handed down his sentence Thursday night, Smollett began yelling that he was both innocent and not suicidal. “And if anything happens to me when I go in there, I did not do it to myself. And you must all know that,” Smollett shouted as he was led away by deputies.
Smollett asked to be placed in protective custody and Linn signed an order requesting it, according to court documents filed after the hearing.
Pressed about Smollett’s comments, lead defense attorney Nenye Uche referred to the 2019 death of financier Jeffrey Epstein while in custody at the Metropolitan Correction Center in New York City on sex trafficking charges.
Epstein’s death was ruled a suicide, but non-working surveillance cameras and the nature of his injuries have fueled conspiracy theories and it is the subject of a continuing investigation.
“He was doing it for a specific reason,” Uche said of his client. “Because let’s be honest, when you have the Epstein situation, where he was found dead in his jail, even in protective custody. What Mr. Smollett was concerned about was, what if he turns up dead in protective custody? He doesn’t want anyone to think he killed himself.”
Uche added he has “sued a lot of jails for unexplained deaths” and threatened to sue the Cook County sheriff’s office should anything happen to Smollett. “So I expect professional conduct, I expect him to be protected,” he said.
In detailing the conditions of Smollett’s stay, the sheriff’s office emphasized that Smollett was not being placed in solitary confinement. “The use of solitary confinement was abolished at the Cook County Jail in 2016,” it said. ”Any claims that he is being held in this manner is false.”
Even so, Uche said he worried about Smollett being cut off from regular contact with others while in jail. “Protective custody is isolation, that’s mental isolation,” he said. “Of course, the flip side to the coin is if you put him in general population, his life is at risk.”
Smollett underwent the jail’s standard intake process Thursday night. He was given a comprehensive medical and mental health evaluation, tested for COVID-19 and offered a vaccine, if he has not already been vaccinated, officials said.
Detainees are held in isolation for a period of time as part of the jail’s efforts to contain the spread of the virus. As of Thursday, 12 detainees tested positive for the coronavirus, all at intake, the sheriff’s office said.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, was convicted by a jury in December on five of six felony counts of disorderly conduct for false statements he made to Chicago police officers claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on Jan. 29, 2019, near his Streeterville home.