By Sasha Savitsky
Published February 22, 2019
Jussie Smollett's character has been removed from the final two episodes of the upcoming season of Fox's "Empire," the show's executives said Friday.
"The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our EMPIRE family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out," co-creators Lee Daniels and Brett Mahoney and executive producers Danny Strong, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer told Fox News.
"We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season," the statement continued.
The second half of Season 5 of "Empire" returns to Fox on March 13.
While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out
The statement comes after Smollett returned to the Chicago set of "Empire" on Thursday just hours after posting bail on a felony disorderly conduct charge.
Earlier on Thursday, Fox said: "We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options."
Smollett walked out of the Cook County jail in Chicago on Thursday afternoon, about two hours after a hearing in which the judge set his bond at $100,000. Taking a stern tone, the judge called his alleged staging of a hate crime "outrageous."
Following three weeks of mounting suspicions, Smollett, who is accused of filing a false police report, was charged Wednesday with felony disorderly conduct. He turned himself in at central booking early Thursday. If convicted, he'll face up to three years in prison.
Chicago police laid out their case against Smollett Thursday morning, accusing the TV star of orchestrating an elaborate hoax via two "bogus" hate crimes -- one employing an alleged attack, and one involving a threatening letter -- all in order to secure a pay raise.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett orchestrated a "phony attack" in order to take "advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."
"I'm left hanging my head and asking why," a visibly upset Johnson told reporters. "Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol? ... How can an individual who has been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in this city by making this false claim?"
He added, "Bogus police reports cause real harm."
In a statement obtained by Fox News Thursday, Smollett's legal counsel said the nation "witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system.
"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," his team continued.
"Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Smollett initially told police he was attacked by two masked men as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop around 2 a.m on Jan. 29. The actor, who is black and gay, said the men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled, "This is MAGA country" — an apparent reference to President Trump's campaign slogan, "Make America Great Again" — before fleeing.
But this isn't how prosecutors and police say things actually unfolded.
Prosecutors said at the actor's bond hearing that Smollett misled police and the public to believe that his attackers were white when he told police his primary attacker was wearing a ski mask that only exposed the area around his eyes.
Police said Smollett hired two black men to help him carry out the hoax. According to prosecutors, Smollett told the two brothers to attack him, shout out the MAGA line, and put a rope around his neck.
"He instructed them to get his attention by yelling '"Empire" F--' and '"Empire" n-----' [and] instructed them to give him a chance to appear to fight back," Assistant State Attorney Risa Lanier said. Lanier said he provided them with $100 to purchase a red hat (the MAGA slogan is often found on red ballcaps) masks and gloves.
Superintendent Johnson said police found the "check that [Smollett] used to pay [the brothers]" to fake the beating, adding that he paid them $3,500 "for the two of them in total, and then $500 upon return."
He said the attack "was staged" and "as far as we can tell, the scratching and bruising that you saw on [Smollett's] face was most likely self-inflicted."
Johnson was also incensed at the spotlight the incident put on his town for the past three weeks.
“This is shameful because it painted this city that we all love and work hard in, in a negative connotation," he said. "To insinuate and stage a hate crime of that nature when he knew that as a celebrity he’d get a lot of attention… It’s despicable. It makes you wonder what’s going through someone’s mind.”
"As a black man, who spent his entire life living in the city of Chicago, I know the racial divide that exists here. I know how hard it's been for our city and our nation to come together," he said. Johnson added that "absolute justice would be an apology to this city that he smeared ... admitting what he did and then be man enough to offer what he should offer up in terms of all the resources that were put into this."
"Empire" is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.
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 affair for money and attention.
The felony charge emerged on the same day detectives and the two brothers, who were initially viewed as suspects, 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.
Police said the investigation shifted after they questioned the two brothers who were in the area that morning. Police said Thursday that Smollett spoke to the brothers an hour before and an hour after he says they helped the actor stage last month's attack.
Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said at the news conference Thursday that after questioning the brothers for nearly two days last week, they were released and investigators no longer viewed them as suspects.
The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola "Abel" and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo, were initially held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett. Police said one of the men had worked 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.
Investigators said they have phone records that show there were extensive communications between Smollett and the brothers. Lanier said Thursday afternoon that one of the brothers, Abel, was a source of "designer drugs," including Molly, for the actor.
Wodnicki said the brothers testified before a grand jury before prosecutors charged Smollett on Wednesday. Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said the brothers appeared before the panel to "lock in their testimony."Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met on Wednesday, 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 Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
But several hours after Smollett was declared a suspect and the charges announced, there was little reaction from celebrities online.
Smollett has a record, one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.