Jussie Smollett has been suspended from Fox drama Empire and won’t appear in the final two episodes of season five.
Producers issued a statement calling allegations that Smollett staged an anti-gay and racist attack against himself “very disturbing,” and called the last few weeks “incredibly emotional for all of us,” Variety reports.
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us” Empire executives Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer said. “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. 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.”
Smollett surrendered to police on Thursday and has been charged with disorderly conduct over the attack, which he claimed took place in the early hours of Jan. 29 in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood.
The actor, who is openly gay, claimed he was attacked by two masked men, who shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him, beat him, put a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical believed to be bleach on him.
Chicago Police have accused Smollett of faking the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary.”
In a court appearance on Thursday, Cook County Judge John Fitzgerald Lyke Jr., said that accusations Smollett staged the attack are “utterly outrageous” and “despicable” if true.
In particular, Fitzgerald Lyke Jr., who is black, focused on Smollett’s assertion that his assailants had tied a noose-style rope around his neck during the attack.
“The most vile and despicable part of it, if it’s true, is the noose,” he said. “That symbol conjures up such evil in this country’s history.”
Smollett’s legal team issued a statement Thursday night calling the accusations against him part of “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,” the statement reads. “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.”
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