Do Chicago police have the wrong motive for Jussie Smollett’s staged assault?

Jussie Smollett turned himself into police custody yesterday and was arrested on one felony count of filing a false police report. His bond was set at $100,000 and he was released in the afternoon. He had family and security around him as he left the court. Jussie’s team issued this statement:

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” Smollett’s legal team said in the statement. “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. 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.”

[From ABC Chicago]

I mean… it’s always an election year, and the prosecution would always like to skip directly to sentencing. None of that is really a great defense. Personally, I think it would have been interesting for Jussie’s team to attack the Chicago PD’s theory on motive. Chicago police seem to believe that Jussie staged his assault so he could get sympathy and… get a bigger paycheck?

The increasingly complicated story of Jussie Smollett’s January assault, and the mounting evidence that he staged it, has left many of those who have worked with him in shock. But nothing has been greeted with more confusion than his motive, which police allege was a pay grab on an aging hit series — a job for which he was already well compensated and may be able to hold onto until he sees a jury.

Chicago police said Thursday that the embattled Empire star choreographed the “publicity stunt” because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on the Fox show. Sources familiar with his and other deals on the Lee Daniels and Danny Strong drama say that he never expressed dissatisfaction with his rich compensation.

Smollett’s salary is substantial, especially for someone who was a relative unknown when he was first cast on Empire before its 2015 premiere. His base pay was originally said to have been in the $40,000-$50,000 per-episode range at the time, considered typical for an actor of his previous stature and placement on the call sheet. After Empire broke out as a massive ratings hit and cultural phenomenon, Fox and producers 20th Century Fox TV renegotiated the cast’s contracts between the second and third seasons. (Producers 20th TV also gifted the cast Rolex watches as wrap gifts after season one.)

Remaining in the second of what sources describe as three tiers of cast salaries, Smollett’s pay was elevated to upwards of $125,000 per episode. By comparison, stars Terence Howard and Taraji P. Henson — both household names on the top of the call sheet — started out earning in the $110,000-$120,000 per-episode range and, in 2016, were elevated to the $225,000-$250,000 ballpark. Given the current demand for talent in TV, when Netflix and Apple are driving the price for stars of all levels upwards, multiple sources describe Smollett’s current salary to The Hollywood Reporter as being in the the upper echelon for an actor with his experience on a successful show.

[From THR]

THR is pointing out that Jussie actually had a great salary for a TV actor who was a relative unknown before the show. THR ends up theorizing (in so many words) that it wasn’t that Jussie wanted a bigger paycheck on Empire, it’s that he wanted to make a name for himself as a solo recording artist and singer in his own right, off the show. Which makes much more sense as a motive?

Speaking of Empire, after Jussie left his bond hearing, he went straight to the set of Empire. TMZ reports that “the cast and crew were waiting at least 30 minutes for Jussie to begin the scheduled scene. When he eventually showed his face he was very emotional, and surrounded by his family.” He told everyone, “I’m sorry I’ve put you all through this and not answered any calls. I wanted to say I’m sorry and, you know me, I would never do this to any of you, you are my family. I swear to God, I did not do this.” Sources told TMZ that Jussie looked like he had been crying, and they let him come back later to shoot his scenes.

Photos courtesy of Backgrid.

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