Jussie Smollett has officially been named a suspect in the criminal investigation into his attack, Chicago police have announced, and he was charged this evening with filing a false police report. The crime carries a felony charge, and if Smollett is found guilty he could face up to three years in prison. Shortly before the indictment was handed down, the lawyer for the brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo said her clients testified for more than two hours before a grand jury, and that they have received “no immunity and no plea deal,” because they have done nothing wrong. Anthony Guglielmi, the head of communications for the Chicago Police Department, said on Twitter that, “Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.”
The Empire actor had previously claimed that two men violently attacked him outside a Subway in Chicago in what he described as a racist and homophobic hate crime in late January. Smollett alleged that the two masked men tied a noose around his neck, beat him, poured bleach on him, and shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him, yelling, “This is MAGA country!” Subsequent evidence, however, led investigators to “shift the trajectory” of the case and consider Smollett an “active participant” in his own attack, which Smollett’s attorneys have repeatedly denied.
The Osundairo brothers were eventually arrested and brought in for questioning in the attack. One of them previously appeared on Empire and the other worked as Smollett’s personal trainer. According to both men and further reports, Smollett “orchestrated” the attack, paid the brothers upwards of $3,500 to carry it out, and paid for the items used in the attack. The brothers reportedly said all three men “rehearsed” the attack days prior to it happening; the Osundairo brothers were eventually released by police without being charged. CBS reported that Smollett allegedly plotted the attack after being upset that a threatening letter containing a white powder that he received a week prior to the attack did not elicit a more serious response from 20th Century Fox, the studio behind Empire. A magazine potentially used to create the letter was seized from the brothers’ home; that letter is currently being investigated by the FBI.
On Tuesday, the Osundairo brothers were prepared to testify before a grand jury, but a last-minute call from Smollett’s lawyers reportedly postponed their testimony. Police have sought to reinterview him in the wake of new evidence. Earlier Wednesday, CBS published security-camera footage that appears to show the Osundairo brothers purchasing a red hat and ski masks days before the attack. On Wednesday, Fox also released a new statement standing by Smollett, maintaining that he isn’t being written off the show. 20th Century Fox has now declined to comment on the news of Smollett being named a suspect.
Update 2/20 9:32 PM: Smollett’s attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, have issued a statement regarding their client’s defense. “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” they told Deadline. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
Update 2/20 11:04 PM: Variety is now reporting that Fox may remove Smollett from production on Empire, though producers for the series declined to comment.
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