A Chicago grand jury has returned a 16-count indictment against Empire actor Jussie Smollett for allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime, according to multiple Chicago media reports.
Smollett was originally charged with one felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office last month. But a true bill handed down on Thursday — and first reported by Chicago blogger CWB Chicago — expanded the charges, claiming that the actor lied to the police who took his initial report as well as to the detectives who followed up later. The ABC station in Chicago confirmed the indictment with the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
Smollett’s legal troubles began on January 29, when he told police that he was attacked by two unknown men who struck him, called him racial and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him, and placed a noose around his neck.
According to the indictment obtained by CWB Chicago, Smollett told a detective in a follow-up interview that he fought back, that all three men fell to the ground, and that he felt someone pulling on his neck. He also told the officer that one of the attackers was a “white male wearing a black mask with an open area around his eyes that exposed his skin.”
The new charges against Smollett each carry a potential sentence of probation to four years, if convicted. Smollett, 36, was written out of the last two episodes of the fifth season of Empire after his arrest. Smollett is due in court for his arraignment on March 14.
Attorney Mark Geragos, who presents Smollett, issued a statement on his behalf Friday night. “The fact of an indictment was not unexpected. We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination. What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie. This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie’s privacy in tampering with his medical records. Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”
Chicago police confirmed to Vulture on Friday that they have opened an internal investigation into the leaks. “I would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation,” Sgt. Rocco Alioto said in a statement. “As a standard procedure when there are allegations of information being leaked, an internal investigation has been opened and we are also looking at our vulnerabilities.”