On the day in late February when Jussie Smollett was indicted on 16 felony charges that he allegedly faked a hate crime against himself, a top Cook County prosecutor told Chicago police she believed the case would end with the “Empire” actor paying restitution and doing community service.
It would be nearly a month before prosecutors in a surprise hearing dropped all charges in what they later said was in exchange for Smollett forfeiting his $10,000 bail and as credit for volunteer work he had already performed.
The detail about one of State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s top prosecutors, Risa Lanier, informing a detective about Smollett’s likely fate in late February was buried in hundreds of pages of reports released Thursday in the Chicago Police Department’s investigation of Smollett.
Since the charges against Smollett were dropped in late March, Foxx has faced fierce criticism over her office’s abrupt dismissal of them, including calls for her resignation by the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police.
The nearly 500 pages of documents released Thursday reveal more detail in a case that has only grown in controversy since prosecutors dropped all charges alleging Smollett falsely reported being the victim of a hate crime.
The release comes after last week’s ruling by a Cook County judge lifting the seal on Smollett’s court records. The actor’s attorneys got his file sealed during the same hearing in March at which the charges were dropped.
Police and prosecutors, citing the seal, previously declined to release documents that otherwise would be subject to public records requests. Prosecutors also are expected to release several internal documents in the coming days.
Other details in the police reports show how Smollett allegedly sought the help of two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, to stage a hate crime on the “Empire” actor in late January. Among those details was that Smollett only wanted one of the brothers to punch him, though it’s not clear which one because of various redactions.
“Smollett was also clear that only (one brother) was to do the hitting because Smollett did not trust (the other brother) to pull his punches,’ according to the reports.
While the Osundairos were not charged in the case, they were key witnesses for detectives in helping bring charges against Smollett.
The police reports also show that investigators who reviewed phone and financial records reported they indicated that Smollett discussed drug deals with one of the brothers, further evidence the three knew each other before Jan. 29, the day Smollett reported the hate crime.
He and the two brothers have not been charged with any drug crimes.
According to the reports, investigators said phone records indicated Smollett wanted one of the brothers to supply him with “weed, molly or Whitney,” which is slang for cocaine. On July 1, 2018, Smollett and one of the brothers exchanged texts on how the actor could obtain “Whitney” and pay for it, the reports state.
Payment was arranged through Venmo, an online payment program, and Smollett later sent a follow-up text stating he just sent $200, according to the reports.
A detective wrote in the police reports that on “multiple occasions” Smollett appeared to have disguised “illicit activity” in his Venmo account by describing it as “payments for legitimate expenses.”
For example, in a September 2018 text exchange in which police alleged Smollett was buying ecstasy from one of the brothers, the actor described the purchase in his Venmo payment as “training.” Smollett’s lawyers have said a $3,500 check — which police alleged the actor used to pay the brothers for helping him stage the attack — was actually to pay one of the brothers for personal fitness training.
The documents outline the exhaustive search for video evidence, a search that brought detectives from downtown to swaths of the North Side, where the Osundairos live. They also detail how detectives tracked down taxi and ride-share records in an effort to find the brothers.
The reports also show Smollett participated in a “walkthrough” with detectives in which he traced his steps to show how the attack occurred. Police asked him how his sweater didn’t get dirty during the attack and he said it was because it fell on snow and ice.
The reports show that at one stage of the police investigation, Smollett declined to sign a medical release or turn over his phone to investigators. He also said he’d think about submitting a buccal swab for police to determine whether his DNA was present on rope found around his neck, the reports show.
The legal drama surrounding Smollett’s case continues unabated. A retired appellate judge has mounted an aggressive effort to appoint a special prosecutor to look into Cook County prosecutors’ handling of the case.
The city of Chicago has sued the actor for the cost of overtime investigators spent looking into his allegedly false report. And the county inspector general is investigating the matter, at the request of Foxx.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, reported in late January being the victim of an attack by two people shouting racist and homophobic slurs.
But he was charged after Chicago police determined that Smollett had agreed to pay $3,500 to the Osundairo brothers, whom he knew previously, to stage the attack.