LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — It’s a story that is growing more convoluted with each day.
It seems like there is a new twist and new turn — every time you turn around.
“Empire” star Jussie Smollett is sticking to his claim he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack last month — even as Chicago police now suggest Smollett might have staged it.
The question a lot of people want to know — what happens to him if he did?
KCAL9’s Laurie Perez on Sunday spoke to legal and public relations experts who might have the answer.
Very quickly, we are seeing the tides change. Some who initially sympathized with the actor/singer are reacting strongly to the possibility that their concern and goodwill was misplaced.
Smollett was slammed today by people on social media and by people like civil rights activist Najee Ali who held a press conference to say Smollett should be arrested and prosecuted.
A source close to the investigation confirmed to CBS News that the gym-loving Nigerian brothers told police that Smollett paid them to help stage the assault — and that they might have even had rehearsals.
“If you’re acting, it’s time to stop,” says veteran public relations pro Ray Drasnin.
He started the Hollywood PR firm Purple Penguin.
This past weekend, Smollett’s attorney issued a statement that the “Empire” star is devastated that people would suggest he took part in his own attack. and that “nothing is further from the truth.”
Drasnin says if that is not true, this is a very bad strategy to pursue.
“If you’re backpedaling and backpedaling and then the ax comes the pendulum is gonna swing harder. Now you lose more fans, now you lose more credibility, and now you also taint the brand of ‘Empire’ and Hollywood big wigs don’t much appreciate that,” Drasnin says.
He believes controlling the message could save Smollett’s career — even if he lied.
“You find a cause. You tell the world I did the wrong thing and then you show where your heart and your head is,” Drasnin says.
But the PR war will be second to the legal battle that Smollett could be facing.
Attorney and CBS2/KCAL9 Legal Analyst Steve Meister says every state penalizes fabricating a crime and the trouble this case has caused is serious.
“That’s felony conduct because you caused a lot of people a lot of problems and you cost the city a lot of money and you took time away from what cops could have been doing to solve real crimes,” Meister says.
He says every state’s laws vary as do the penalties. In California, a felony conviction for lying to a police officer is punishable by up to three years in prison.