Jussie Smollett’s lawyers and family are demanding an emergency suspension of the actor’s five-month jail sentence, saying “vicious threats” including a highly disturbing anonymous phone call raise serious concerns about his safety behind bars.
One of Smollett’s siblings received the alarming call Friday morning on the number that was given as his emergency jail contact when he was taken into custody Thursday night following sentencing for his hate hoax conviction, a Smollett spokeswoman says.
“I hope what they do to that guy in jail — here’s what they’re going to do, right. They’re going to take a broom handle, and take that little [expletive], shove it in there, and he’s gonna go, ‘[shrieking sound],’” a man’s voice says in video of the call shared by Smollett’s team on Monday.
The threat appears to recall the horrific 1997 police assault on Abner Louima in Brooklyn, in which Louima was sodomized with a broken broomstick in the bathroom of the 70th precinct by Justin Volpe, the disgraced NYPD Officer now serving 30 years for the attack.
The Smollett spokeswoman says the caller bombarded his sibling’s number with a dozen other similar calls Friday morning.
In the new filing calling for Smollett’s immediate release, the actor’s lawyers claim he’s also become a target of “vicious threats” across social media following his conviction, and this “no doubt reflects the hatred and wish for physical harm toward Smollett which he may experience during incarceration.”
The lawyers, who are pursuing an appeal, further argue that Smollett’s detention in “protective custody” is essentially “solitary confinement” and could inflict “extraordinary damage on his mental health.” They also claim Smollett has a “compromised immune system,” so his “potential exposure” to Covid-19 while in custody also raises a “serious health risk.”
The Cook County sheriff’s office, which operates the jail, told the Chicago Tribune on Monday that Smollett has been placed in housing often used for people with mental health needs, but “it would be inaccurate and irresponsible to make any assumption about his mental or medical condition based on where he is currently housed.” Smollett is not currently on suicide watch, the office told the newspaper.
Jocqui Smollett said in a video posted on the actor’s Instagram Sunday that his brother was being held in a “psych ward” at the Cook County jail in Chicago but was “in no way, shape or form at risk of self-harm.”
“He is very stable, he is very strong, he is very healthy and ready to take on the challenge that ultimately has been put up against him,” Jocqui Smollett said in the video.
The new emergency filing from Smollett’s defense follows after his Empire co-star Taraji P. Henson pleaded for his release over the weekend, arguing in an Instagram post on Sunday that his jail sentence “does not fit” his conviction for staging a hate crime.
“I am not here to debate you on his innocence but we can agree that the punishment does not fit the crime. Emmett Till was brutally beat and ultimately murdered because of a lie and none of the people involved with his demise spent one day in jail, even after Carolyn Bryant admitted that her claims were false. No one was hurt or killed during Jussie’s ordeal. He has already lost everything, EVERYTHING!,” Henson wrote in her post.
“To me as an artist not able to create that in itself is punishment enough. He can’t get a job. No one in Hollywood will hire him and again as an artist who loves to create, that is prison. My prayer is that he is freed and put on house arrest and probation because in this case that would seem fair. Please #freejussie,” she urged.
Smollett’s bizarre case dates back to January 2019, when the Empire cast member claimed two men disguised in balaclava-style masks hung a noose around his neck and yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him during an assault on a deserted street outside his Chicago apartment in the Streeterville neighborhood.
In the weeks following his police report, Smollett himself became a suspect in the incident, with authorities accusing him of staging the attack himself with help from Nigeria-born brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo.
The brothers testified at trial that Smollett paid them to stage the attack as a publicity ploy. Smollett has maintained his innocence, but a jury convicted him on five of six counts of disorderly conduct on Dec. 9, 2021, after a long-delayed trial.
From Rolling Stone US