Jussie Smollett’s legal team wants the embattled actor to be released from the Cook County Jail in Illinois because he is facing threats while serving his 150-day sentence for orchestrating a hate crime against himself and lying to police about it.
The former “Empire” star’s lawyers filed an emergency motion on Monday requesting that an appeals court suspended Smollett’s jail sentence, or allow him to go free on bond, while his appeal is pending, according to the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. They argued that his time in custody could put his physical and mental health at risk.
His attorneys said that “there are serious constitutional issues with this case” and have already asked the higher court to throw out his December 2021 conviction, arguing that Smollett’s second prosecution violated his double-jeopardy rights. The motion also said that the actor would almost certainly have completed his jail sentence before his appeal is litigated and asked to postpone payment of the fines he was ordered to pay.
The 39-year-old entertainer has allegedly received “vicious threats” on social media that “no doubt reflects the hatred and wish for physical harm toward Smollett which he may experience during incarceration,” the filing said.
The Smollett family allegedly received a threatening phone call about the actor and released its audio on Monday. The caller allegedly said that Smollett would be assaulted in jail in the way that inmate Abner Louima was notoriously brutalized in 1997 when a New York Police Department officer used a broomstick to sodomize the Haitian immigrant.
Smollett’s family members have been using his official Instagram account to share updates about the actor, stating over the weekend that he was “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.”
In a video update on Monday, his brother Jocqui Smollett said that Smollett had been moved out of the “psych ward” he was originally placed in and into a jail with a regular bed, rather than one with restraints. Before that, Smollett’s brother said the actor had a note in his cell that said he was at risk of self-harm.
Upon his sentencing, Smollett delivered an impassioned speech in which he insisted that he was not suicidal. But he was placed in a medical facility at the Cook County Jail, where individuals with higher levels of medical or mental health needs receive treatment. The facility also can be used for protective custody — which Smollett’s attorneys have requested — according to a spokesperson for the jail.
The spokesperson refuted claims about restraints and confirmed to The Times that Smollett was moved Monday to a different cell within the same division because his cell was needed for another detainee.
“This was a decision made by the medical professionals. Mr. Smollett was never restrained to a bed or anything else in the cell. The bed was never equipped with restraints,” the spokesperson said.
Smollett remains housed in his own cell with officers stationed at its open door “to ensure that he is under direct observation at all times,” the spokesperson said. He is also allowed “substantial time” out of his cell in a common area and no other detainees are around during that time — a routinely used for interrogation in protective custody.
“He is currently housed in a location frequently utilized for individuals requiring a high level of supervision and care for mental health needs,” the spokesperson said. “This housing may also be utilized for security reasons due to the enhanced monitoring that can occur in this setting, and it would be inaccurate and irresponsible to make any assumption about his mental or condition based on where he is currently medical housed.”
The office also said that Smollett is not currently on suicide watch.
“Unfortunately, Cook County doesn’t really move until they get bad publicity. And so we have to keep applying pressure, y’all,” Jocqui Smollett said in Monday’s video update on Instagram, urging #FreeJussie supporters to keep calling the jail and saying that he should be released.
A number of supporters, including Smollett’s “Empire” co-stars Taraji P. Henson and Alfre Woodard, actors LaTanya and Samuel L. Jackson and civil rights organizations, have publicly opposed Smollett’s incarceration.
“It’s absolutely ridiculous that he’s in there. Folks need to understand this really sets a precedent. You should be terrified of the precedent that this sets,” Jocqui Smollett said, explaining that a person could be locked up for being associated with liars.
In Smollett’s case, Jocqui was referring to the brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, whom the actor accused of attacking him in 2019 for being black and gay.
“We believe he is innocent. But even if you don’t believe in his innocence, you should believe that he can’t be in jail. This is absolutely ridiculous,” Jocqui said.
Jussie Smollett began his nearly five-month sentence last Thursday and is eligible for good-behavior credit that would cut that time in half, the Chicago Tribune reported. That puts his anticipated release date in late May.
The singer was also required to 30 months of probation and was ordered to pay more than $120,000 in restitution to the city of Chicago and a maximum fine of $25,000.