CHICAGO (CBSLA) – Embattled actor Jussie Smollett — who is facing allegations of staging a hate crime attack against himself in the city of Chicago — is being written off his hit show “Empire.”
On Friday, 20th Century Fox Television confirmed that Smollett’s character Jamal is being removed from the final two episodes of season 5.
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us” series executives said in a statement released Friday morning. “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.”
The latest statement comes as an about-face for the studio, which had stood behind Smollett as late as Wednesday.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” Fox Television said in a statement Wednesday.
Then on Thursday, following his arrest, the studio said: “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
In the early morning hours of Jan. 29, Smollett alleges two men shouted racial and homophobic slurs at him and physically attacked him on a Chicago street, prompting police to open a hate crime investigation.
At the time, Smollett told police that the two suspects yelled homophobic slurs at him before attacking him, pouring a chemical substance on him and then wrapping a rope around his neck.
However, in the ensuing weeks, doubt was cast on Smollett’s story. Authorities began investigating whether Smollett may have staged the attack with the help of two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, who had appeared as extras on “Empire.”
On Thursday morning, Smollett was arrested on a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false report. In a news conference following his arrest, Chicago police said that Smollett orchestrated the hoax attack because he was unhappy with his salary on “Empire.”
According to CBS Chicago, on Jan. 22, police said Smollett sent a racist letter, addressed to himself, to the “Empire” set. The letter contained a white powder that turned out to be aspirin, prompting a hazmat response.
When the letter did not receive the reaction that Smollett was hoping for, he then paid the two brothers $3,500 by check to help stage the Jan. 29 incident, police said.
If convicted as charged, he faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison.