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Chicago Police To Give An Update On The Arrest Of Jussie Smollett; Chicago Police Make A Statement About The Alleged Attack On Smollett. Aired 10-10:30a ET

Aired February 21, 2019 - 10:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[10:00:00]

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN Breaking News.

JIM SCIUTTO, CNN HOST: Very good Thursday morning to you. I'm Jim Sciutto here in New York.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN HOST: I'm Poppy Harlow and we are following breaking news. Any moment now, Chicago police will give us an update on the arrest of "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett. Here is what we know at this hour. He is in police custody after being arrested early this morning and he faces a felony charge for allegedly filing a false police report.

SCIUTTO: That is the microphone there, the podium where police will give their press conference shortly. Smollett claims that he was attacked by two masked men last month while hurling homophobic, racist slurs, even political slurs. He'll be in court this afternoon now for a bail hearing.

Joining us now CNN's Ryan Young with more, Ryan, you've been on this story since the beginning. It goes from an explosive claim of a modern day lynching, now to Smollett facing a felony charge for filing a false report.

RYAN YOUNG, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, this is so tough. And you think about all the details to the parts of this. First let's deal with that modern day lynching part, the idea that a noose could be tied on a black man's neck here in Chicago and he could be attacked.

I think that sent a shockwave through the country. And for right reasons here, people started calling for more attention to be put to this case. But then it all started falling apart. 12 detectives started working this from the city of Chicago.

And as soon as they started working this, they stated realizing there were some parts of this story that just didn't make sense. And then taking to the early parts of this, there was a 40 minute gap from when the attack supposedly happened to when police were initially called.

And then from there when police officers arrived, they tried to take the actor to the hospital. He refused to go with them. And in fact he self transported himself from there. 12 detectives working so many hours started putting the pieces to this together. They put out that image of the two men that they were considered personas of interest.

And then this case started falling apart because when those two men got back from Africa, they were in Nigeria; they started talking to police officers. They put them in the box; they got them to give their confession. The next thing you know, certain parts of this started falling apart.

So you think about this and over 1,000 man hours have been put in to this by the Chicago police department. And now they're giving another announcement here, so hold on. I'm going to take a break real quick and see what happens. So it looks like they're giving us another warning before this happens.

But you think about the story, then they wanted to put -- talk to the actor one more time. They have tried to work that out with his lawyers. He did not show up. And then last night they went to the grand jury.

After the grand jury, they decided to lace those charges on him. They decided to make a deal with him for him to turn himself in. So this morning with his lawyers, Jussie Smollett turned himself in. He was talking to detectives, then he was taken down to processing. We know that bond hearing will happen this afternoon.

So, so many questions about the motive in this, why would he do something like this? Those are the questions that people want to ask. Of course he's innocent until proven guilty, so you don't want to go too far on the other side of this at this point.

But the two men who have been talking to police have told them that he paid them about $3,500 to go through with this and to orchestrate this all. And at this point there are so many questions about what the next step will be; especially will we ever hear from the actor his side of the story.

HARLOW: Ryan Young, wow. Stay right there. We're going to come to the live press conference as soon as it begins. As we wait for that, let's bring in Areva Martin, civil rights attorney and James Gagliano, retired FBI supervisory special agent. Good morning to you both. Areva--

AREVA MARTIN, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY: Good morning.

HARLOW: What are your biggest outstanding questions at this point?

MARTIN: I think everyone's question, Poppy, is why? Why would a young man who already had a successful career as an actor and as a singer, he's on one of the top rated drama series on television.

Why would he put all of that at risk? And not only is he a successful actor and singer, he is also a very well-known and recognized activists in the social justice community and in the LGBT community. I know that he's also been active in the Times Up movement as well. So, advocating on behalf of women who have been the victims of sexual assault or sexual harassment claims. So, he has all of this going for him. Why would he orchestrate this hate crime or alleged hate crime knowing that if it's revealed, he would not only jeopardize his job, jeopardize his freedom but also his reputation?

And these kinds of orchestrated events like this if this in fact what he did really will make it so much more difficult for any victim of a hate crime to come forward and to be believed. So, just a really -- I think for all of us, the big question is why.

HARLOW: Can we -- just on that point, can we just take a minute and listen to what he said in his message to this community that he has been such an activist for his message to little boys struggling with what he struggled with as a child. Let's play that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSSIE SMOLLETT, ACTOR: I want them to see that I fought back. And I want a little gay boy whom might watch this to see that I fought back.

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And it does not take anything away from people that are not able to do that, but I fought back. They ran off, I didn't.

ROBIN ROBERTS, ABC NEWS ANCHOR: What do you say to a young gay man, a young gay person?

SMOLLETT: To learn to fight. And I don't just mean like learning to fight.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SCIUTTO: Areva what is his defense now as that story falls apart?

MARTIN: Well, you know Jim the question is, is he going to mount a defense or is he going to try to see some kind of plea deal with the prosecutors? What we know is that this false reporting charge in the state of Illinois carries one to three years in prison.

Also though, there's a possibility of probation. In terms of a defense, are the two men who've been implicated in this, are they telling the truth or is he telling the truth that he nothing to do with the attack. We know that the police have the cell phones of the young men. So if their text messages back and forth between Jussie and these two brothers, if their emails, if there's any kind of written exchange between the two of them I think the whole issue of credibility will be cleared up. Where is the physical evidence, that's going to tell us a great deal about who's telling the truth.

SCIUTTO: They have financial records as well, and that could substantiate financial payments for this, just into CNN we now have the mug shot for Jussie Smollett, there it is right there as he faces what are very serious charges here. Felony charges. HARLOW: Yeah that was just taken this morning. James Galiano to you, talk to us about the police work, the detective work here that was done. Because we have video of the two brothers that are connected to this inside a -- I think a beauty supply shop etcetera, walk us through what went on here.

JAMES GAGLIANO, RETIRED FBI AGENT: Utterly bizarre and disturbing story, and absolutely lamentable, all the people that backed him, his politicians and even the cops.

SCIUTTO: It's a good word, lamentable.

GAGLIANO: Lamentable Jim. And here's the thing. It's not just a diversion of resources, all right. So we heard that there were 12 detectives assigned. That's a large number for a case like this. It was supposed to be a hate crime. A hate crime is a crime that is motivated by bigotry or racism towards a minority community. In this instance, it's not just a diversion of resources which he may also face restitution. He may have to pay that back, it's a fact that our country is so riven right now, it's so riven. And this is a city, Chicago, that between 2001 and 2016 more young men we're killed than in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars together. It's horrifying to thing that 12 detectives were on this case for almost three weeks trying to pull on threads and get to the bottom of this. There are no perfect crimes, so especially in today's age where it's the digital media footprint and the cameras on every street corner, especially in a place like Chicago, no perfect crimes and detectives did a great job there.

SCIUTTO: detectives that could have been investigating other crimes, preventing other crimes, in a city riven by violence as you say. So let's talk about how serious these charges would be. Filing a false police report, we understand comes under the disorderly conduct sentencing guidelines one to three years. Are there minimum sentence govern (ph) or does the judge have a lot of leeway. And again, let's remember as you got to do, this is early, relatively on this process we don't know what the final determination is going to be, but just so folks understand what an ultimate outcome could be.

GAGLIANO: Sure, mandatory minimums attach at the federal level, so I'm sure the judge here is going to have a lot of latitude. Some people argue in our system of justice that it is it's unfair one way or the other. In this sense, poor people don't generally get the same type of representation that rich folks gets, right?

So he's going get good representation, but there are also attaches to that, that the notoriety, the ignominy attached to this and all the attention people are that know about this -- I mean it's obviously not just a national story, it's an international story. That may hurt too. And I'll give you one quick example. Michael Vick. Not many people go to jail for dog fighting, but when you are a professional athlete and you get arrested for dog fighting you do time in a federal slammer.

HARLOW: Ryan Young is back with us, and Ryan we're waiting, I though they might be coming out because we saw the photographer stand up there with their big lens camera so just keep us posted if we need to break to that. And I think that --

YOUNG: --They're actually on their way in. And I think there's something that you guys were talking about that they -- that's really important here. The police department was also upset in that they (ph) had think about the black eye (ph) they put on the city when people start talking about crime numbers and where detectives should be. Crimes down right now, they've been working on getting the city to work with the community a lot better.

But then you start having these conversations about what happened in this neighborhood and then the idea that there could be a noose (ph) and then people started talking about how the police department was handling this in the beginning, so you saw that police force being put forward. Look they're politicians calling for the federal government to come in here and investigate this case before the police even had a chance to start making those phone calls.

So you understand how all of this worked out. And that's why you can see, I think the effort that was put in place. The hours it took detective just to sort of track down that first initial image is unbelievable. And then you think how they build (ph) this case out, this is one of those things you're going to look back at and see all the work that they put together, and how they put this case together, I think is going to surprise people in some places.

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SCIUTTO: Yes. And that's part of police work, right, determining if crimes took place or if they didn't take place here. But boy, a lot of wasted police hours in a city they could use those hours.

Areva, you heard James Gagliano's point there about the public nature of this how that adds to the consequences frankly and the damage done. Does that factor potentially in to a judge's assessment of the case and decision of the case?

MARTIN: Well, I don't think it'll factor in to a judge's decisions, Jim. Judges are pretty accustom to dealing with all kinds of defendants from poor defendants to very wealthy defendants. But there is something in our criminal justice system called celebrity justice.

And there definitely is a public perception that celebrities are treated differently once they are in the criminal justice system than other non-celebrity defendants. And sometimes that cuts in their favor where they are given what may be considered to be lighter sentences and treated better than other defendants.

And sometimes it cuts against them as in the case that Jim talked about with Michael Vick. Let's focus on that. Crimes that involve making false police reports to police like the doll (ph) fighting crimes aren't often prosecuted.

And you don't often see people go to jail for making these false reports. This is a nonviolent crime if he did in fact commit it. This isn't a crime where anyone was actually harmed other than the resources that were-- SCIUTTO: Right.

MARTIN: -- utilized and the -- we talk about the back eye.

SCIUTTO: Areva, sorry to interrupt, we do see the press conference beginning here. Let's have a listen.

EDDIE JOHNSON, SUPERINTENDENT OF CHICAGO POLICE: Good morning, everyone. Before I get started on why we're here, and as I look out in to the crowd, I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention because that's who really deserves them amount of attention that we're giving to this particular incident.

But this morning, I come to you not only as the superintendent of the Chicago police department but also as a black man who spent his entire life living in the city of Chicago. I know the racial divide that exists here. I know how hard it's been for our city and our nation to come together. And I also know the disparities and I know the history.

This announcement today recognizes that "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I'm left hanging my head and asking why. Why would anyone, especially an African American man use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?

How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile. How can an individual who's been embraced by the city of Chicago turnaround to slap everyone in this city in the face by making these false claims.

Bogus police reports cause real harm. They do harm to every legitimate victim who's in need of support by police and investigators as well as the citizens of this city. Chicago hosts one of the largest pride parades in the world and we're proud of that as a police department and also as a city.

We do not nor will we ever tolerate hate in our city whether that hate is based on an individual's sexual orientation, race or anything else. Though I'm offended by what's happened, and I'm also angry. I love the city of Chicago and the Chicago police department, works and all.

But this publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve. To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks. Celebrities, news commentators, and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor.

First, Smollett attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language. When that didn't work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago's reputation through the mud in the process. And why this stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary, but he concocted a story about being attacked.

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Now our city has problems, we know that. We have problems that have affected people from all walks of life, and we know that. But to put the national spotlight on Chicago for something that is both egregious and untrue is simply shameful. I'm also concerned about what this means moving forward for hate crimes.

Now of course the Chicago police department will continue to investigate our reports of these types of incidents with the same amount of vigor that we did with this one. But my concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn't happen.

That said, Smollett was treated as a victim throughout this investigation until we received evidence that lead detectives in another direction. I couldn't be more proud of the unrelenting detective work that went in to this investigation. And I couldn't be more proud of every investigator that played a part in it.

The detective work that we saw in this case is indicative of the work that our detectives do everyday in this city. This case in particular involved hours of video evidence which went combined with old fashion police work uncovered the truth.

These detectives deserve all the credit in the world for carefully analyzing the leads and the evidence for weeks before coming to their conclusion. I'd also like to thank the FBI for their help in this investigation. The FBI's partnership with CPD has been pivotal in this particular case.

I only hope that the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention that the hoax did. I continue to pray for this troubled young man who resorted to both drastic and illegal tactics to gain attention. I'll also continue to pray for our city asking that we can move forward from this and begin to heal.

And now I'd like to call up Commander Edward Wodnicki who personally led this patient and deliberate investigation to walk everyone through how the Chicago police department arrived at this point.

EDWARD WODNICKI, DETECTIVE COMMANDER, CHICAGO POLICE: Good morning, everyone. My name is Edward Wodnicki. I'm the commander of the area central detective division. I'm here to answer questions. OK, the boss just corrected me, please forgive me. I'm supposed to go through the timeline of our investigation.

JOHNSON: It's OK.

WODNICKI: So, here's where we are. As you all know on the early morning of February 29th at 2 o'clock in the morning, Jussie Smollett reported that he was a victim of a hate crime.

Detectives responded to the incident and interviewed him eventually at Northwestern hospital where he reported to us that the two offenders yelled racial and homophobic and political statements at him and beat him, put a noose around his neck and threw bleach on him and then fled from the area.

We learned at the time that Jussie was not hurt other than scratches on his face, maybe some bruising but no broken ribs or serious injuries. So, we started a full scale investigation in to this hate crime, a very serious crime anywhere. We quickly found two persons of interest on video that we believed were the likely offenders in this case.

We initially put out a seeking to identify and we got this out in a community alert. We then started searching the area for video cameras and witnesses that could help us with our investigation. During that timeframe, we interviewed over 100 individuals in a canvas of the area and a follow-up canvas as our investigation expanded.

We located approximately 35 of our Chicago police pod cameras in the area and in the areas that we determined these two persons of interest fled.

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We additionally found over 20 private sector cameras. And I got to say that that was super useful in this investigation.

The city came together to investigate and help the police with this crime. It was because of these pod cameras, our investment in to technology in the city of Chicago and the great assistance from the community and giving us those other cameras that led us to a really solid timeline of where our two persons of interest went.

So in short, we were able to track them initially forward so after the crime we were able to see that they fled in a particular direction and eventually got in to a cab. Our investigators located that cab, interviewed the cab driver, got some video out of that cab.

Followed that cab using all of these surveillance cameras that are located throughout the city, the pod cameras, to an area up on the north side where they abruptly stopped the cab, got out and walked on foot. Again, the community came together to provide us with security footage from their private cameras.

So, at that point, we then started tracking these two persons of interest backwards, backwards to where they came from. So, we followed them walking around and eventually back to where they had gotten out of a cab. So, that was another individual that we had to interview and another individual where we sought video.

We continued to track that cab back to the point where the cab was tracked down by our two persons of interest in a RideShare car. We then followed up on the RideShare and that was the lead that we needed in order to identify the two persons of interest.

At that point, we had a real good timeline of where these two people went. We were able to put a name to both of these individuals. And it was at that time that we started looking at where they went right after this event. We tracked them to going to O'Hare Airport and jumping on a flight to Nigeria. Our investigations lead us to determine that they had purchased a round trip ticket with them returning to Chicago on the 13th so, approximately two weeks after the incident.

So, that gave us a couple of weeks to try to continue to follow-up on any investigative lead, any investigative lead that would help us try to determine what happened in this incident.

So, while we were waiting for them to return, we executed over 50 search warrants and subpoenas working with our partners in the state's attorney's office, phone records, social media records, and records on individuals to help us illuminate the likely facts that occurred in this event.

So, moving forward to the 13th, we had a team in place working with the FBI, customs and our partners out at the airport, airport police helped us tremendously. And we were able to locate and identify these two individuals, these two persons of interest when they entered back in to the country at customs.

We took them in to custody. We read them their rights and they both initially asked for an attorney. They were brought to area central detective headquarters so that we could process them and it was at that time that their attorney showed up. I think you've all seen her on the news the last couple of days.

She came to us and after speaking with these people of interest, she said that something smelled fishy; she did not think that they were the offenders as were reported. She worked with us very, very closely to get to the point where she came to me and said you really need to talk to these guys.

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I'm going to allow them to give you a video interview with us present and we're going to have you hear their story. They are not offenders, they're victims. It was at that time that this investigation started to spin in a completely new direction.

You've heard some of the statements that their lawyer, Ms. Schmidt has made and it was at that time that we took the information that these two individuals provided to us and we substantiated the timeline and the details that they gave to us in this interview. We were able to substantiate those things, we worked very, very closely with the states attorneys' office, we had been working very, very closely with the states attorney's office for over a week at that point, and it was then on the 15th, Friday the 15th after approximately 47 hours of them being in custody and hours of them meeting with us and telling us their story and documenting their story did we release them without charging and I classified them no longer as suspects or persons of interest and as witnesses.

So as is typical with any investigation, one would typically lock up (ph) these witnesses into a grand jury statement. Monday was a holiday, the 18th, Tuesday was the first day that we could attempt to do that. So we scheduled an appointment with the grand jury working again very closely with the states attorney's office in this, and as you know at the last minute, Jussie's lawyers called and said that they had evidence to postpone the grand jury that they wanted to provide to us.

It was at that time that they called us and I met with them, with a team of our detectives and essentially they gave us no new information. So I reported that back to the states attorney's office and it was at that time that we locked in both of these witnesses to the grand jury, I'm told they did an excellent job and then the states attorney's office approved charges against Jussie for the class four disorderly conduct false police report. We met with the -- with Jussie's attorneys, and we arranged for him to turn himself in, and as you all know he turned himself in at five o'clock this morning in the first district in Chicago. Today at 1:30, Jussie will be going in front of a bond court judge and the bond court hearing will be conducted 26 in California.

JOHNSON: Megan? (ph)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What can you tell us about when Mr. Smollett turned himself in this morning?

JOHNSON: Well it was uneventful. He showed up of course with his attorneys and a few other individuals but it went smoothly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Superintendent Johnson, if you had enough evidence to just charge him, why take it to a grand jury?

JOHNSON: Because that's typically what we do, once we believe that witnesses -- valuable witnesses are credible then we take them to the grand jury to lock their testimonies in.

(CROSS TALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Superintendent--

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- (inaudible) motive a little more --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: -- (inaudible) emotional appearance (ph) for the first time. You said that he sent that false letter to himself, and you also said that he was dissatisfied with his salary. Did you get that information from the two brothers?

JOHNSON: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Who (ph) were the subpoenas and search warrants issues against?

JOHNSON: Well a number individuals, you know we serve subpoenas and warrants of course on Mr. Smollett, his manager for phone records, the two people of interest that we had, and so we still have quite a few search warrants and subpoenas out there that we're waiting to come back.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sir, can you tell us about the -- you talked about the detectives and the amount of resources that went into this case. Can you quantify how many man hours went into this? How many detectives worked this case, and also can you confirm that the detective working the case from the February 7th shooting that one year old went from that case to work this case.

JOHNSON: We didn't pull resources from any shootings or homicide investigations, the detectives that you see behind me basically work on different teams, which include property crimes and things of that nature. We don't have exact numbers yet, but let me just tell you of this (ph) anytime a hate crime is reported in the city of Chicago it gets the same attention. This didn't get any special attention. You all gave this more attention specifically than we do. We give every hate crime in this city the same amount of vigor because there's no place for hatred in this city.

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