Jussie Smollett indicted on 16 counts for allegedly phony claims of racist, homophobic attack
Cook County grand jury has indicted “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.
The multiple counts highlight different aspects of Smollett’s allegedly phony story, including claims that his attackers beat him, poured a chemical substance on him and put a rope around his neck.
The indictment comes little more than two weeks after prosecutors charged Smollett with a single felony count and he was released from Cook County Jail after a friend posted his $100,000 bond.
A timeline of how the Jussie Smollett case unfolded »
Smollett is scheduled to appear in the Leighton Criminal Court Building on Thursday so a judge can be assigned to preside over his case and he can plead not guilty to the 16 counts.
The actor, 36, is accused of staging a phony attack on himself, then telling police he was the victim of a hate crime.
Smollett, who is African American and openly gay, has said he was walking from a sandwich shop to his apartment in the 300 block of East North Water Street around 2 a.m. Jan. 29 when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Smollett said they also yelled, “This is MAGA country,” referring to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
Police initially treated the incident as a hate crime, but their focus turned to Smollett after two brothers who were alleged to have been his attackers told police that Smollett had paid them $3,500 to stage the attack — with a promise of another $500 later.
Police pieced together much of their evidence by reviewing footage from about 55 police and private surveillance cameras showing the brothers’ movements before and after the attack.
The shift in the investigation came amid often bitter public debate and stinging skepticism on social media — doubts that Smollett addressed in a national TV interview and in a strongly worded statement after the brothers were released.
A week before the alleged attack, Smollett told police he received a threatening letter at work. Witnesses told police a postal worker dropped off the letter at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is filmed. It was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park on Jan. 18 and bore two American flag stamps. The letters “MAGA” were written in the upper-left corner of the envelope.
Prosecutors said Smollett staged the attack because he was unhappy with the studio’s response to the threatening letter. Chicago police took it a step further, accusing Smollett of faking the letter as well.
The letter is the subject of a separate federal investigation.
On Feb. 21, the day Smollett was initially charged, Chicago police Superintendent Eddie Johnson blasted the actor, saying the hoax dragged “Chicago’s reputation through the mud.”
Opinion: The Jussie Smollett story is not just about Jussie Smollett. It’s about us »
Megan Crepeau writes for the Chicago Tribune.
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