Fox is no longer backing Empire star Jussie Smollett: The network announced this week that it plans to “remove” the actor’s character from the hit show following criminal charges filed against him, reports TVLine.
Smollett, a gay black man, became the subject of a national dialogue after he reported a brutal attack by racist and homophobic assailants to the Chicago Police Department.
That was about three weeks ago; since initial reports emerged, Chicago PD now believes Smollett filed a fake police report and paid two men $3,500 to orchestrate the assault. This Thursday, February 22, police confirmed he was had been apprehended and was in custody. (He was reportedly released later that day on $100,000 bail.)
In the meantime, Empire’s executive production team released a statement confirming that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, will be written out of the remainder of the show’s fifth season:
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. 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.
It’s unclear how exactly Empire writers plan to explain Jamal’s absence. Smollett has played the character since the show’s premiere in 2015.
Despite Chicago PD’s claims that he may have organized the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire, Smollett and his lawyers maintain his innocence. (The actor did, however, issue an apology to his colleagues on the set of Empire, according to CNN.)His attorneys released a statement late this Thursday night denouncing Chicago PD for “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. 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.
If convicted of his charges, which also include disorderly conduct, Smollett could face up to three years in prison. He could also be ordered to cough up the bill for the police investigation, which has already involved about 20 detectives, reports The Chicago Tribune.