Days after a judge sentenced former Empire actor Jussie Smollett to 150 days in jail for staging a hate crime, his television mom and real-life friend, Taraji P. Henson, is speaking out, calling for his release.
According to reports, Taraji P. Henson joined several other celebrities in calling the punishment excessive. Though Smollett maintained his innocence, he was found guilty last year of filing a false police report and was convicted of five counts of disorderly conduct.
Taking to social media to stand in solidarity with Smollett, who is currently in Chicago’s Cook County Jail, posting a stark black and white message with the hashtag #FreeJussie and a full-throated call for his release, writing:
“I am not here to debate you on his innocence. But we can agree that the punishment does not fit the crime. Emmett Till was brutally beat and ultimately murdered because of a lie, and none of the people involved with his demise spent one day in jail, even after Carolyn Bryant admitted that her claims were false.”
Henson added that the sentence was extremely harsh, noting that the former star had already “lost everything” due to the ordeal.
“No one was hurt or killed during Jussie’s ordeal. He has already lost everything, EVERYTHING! To me as an artist not able to create that in itself is punishment enough. He can’t get a job. No one in Hollywood will hire him and again as an artist who loves to create, that is prison. My prayer is that he is freed and put on house arrest and probation because in this case that would seem fair. Please #freejussie.”
Friends and family of the actor are calling for his release, filing an emergency motion requesting for the court to either stay his sentence or grant him bond.
In the document, filed March 11 and obtained exclusively by Yahoo Entertainment, Smollett’s attorneys argue that “vicious threats” against him on social media indicate the violence that he “may experience during incarceration.” However, they say that, if Smollett is put into what equates to solitary confinement, that could cause “extraordinary damage” to his mental health: “Any custodial setting poses a safety and health danger” to his life.
The motion also cites a medical doctor’s opinion that Smollett has a compromised immune system and is at “serious health risk” if he contracts COVID-19 behind bars.
The Cook’s County Sheriff’s Office previously clarified that Smollett was being held in “protective custody status,” clarifying that he has his own cell which is monitored by cameras inside and by an officer stationed outside.
“As with all detained persons, Mr. Smollett is entitled to have substantial time out of his cell in the common areas on the tier where he is housed, where he is able to use the telephone, watch television, and interact with staff,” a spokesperson said. “During such times out of [the] cell, other detainees will not be present in the common areas. These protocols are routinely used for individuals ordered into protective custody who may potentially be at risk of harm due to the nature of their charges, their profession, or their noteworthy status.”
Despite authorities’ claims, Smollett’s family has alleged that the phone number of an emergency contact, given to him by one of his siblings when he began his incarceration, had received “threatening, harassing, racist and homophobic” calls in the days since–prompting his legal team to file the emergency motion Monday asking the court to postpone his five-month sentence.
The filing argues Smollett’s life is at risk because he’s been the target of “vicious threats” on social media and the online hate “no doubt reflects the hatred and wish for physical harm toward Smollett, which he may experience during incarceration.” The filing argues Smollett’s life is at risk because he’s been the target of “vicious threats” on social media and the online hate “no doubt reflects the hatred and wish for physical harm toward Smollett, which he may experience during incarceration.”
A spokesperson for the Cook County Sheriff’s Office said Smollett’s “safety and security” is their primary concern and urged the actor’s family to report the threatening phone calls to law enforcement.
In addition, Smollett’s attorneys further argued that the fallen star’s life is at risk because he has a “compromised immune system” and could die if he catches COVID-19 behind bars. They included an affidavit signed by a doctor to bolster the claim, but it didn’t specify which health conditions Smollett suffers from.
The Cook County Sheriff’s Office said the jail currently has just 15 positive COVID-19 cases in a population of about 6,100 inmates.