A Chicago grand jury has returned a 16-count felony indictment against ‘Empire’ star Jussie Smollett for falsely reporting a hate crime attack in late January. Each of the charges carries a potential sentence ranging from probation to four years.
The disorderly conduct charges refer specifically to “false report of offense” and are Class 4 felonies. Smollett is scheduled to be arraigned on March 14.
Smollett, a black and openly gay actor, told police he was attacked by Trump supporters while he was walking home from a Subway restaurant in Streeterville, Ill., at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. He claimed that two masked men attacked him in the street, shouting racist and homophobic slurs as they beat him, put a noose around his neck, and poured a chemical thought to be bleach on him.
In reality, however, according to police, Smollett paid two pals, Ola and Abel Osundairo, $3,500 by check to stage the hate crime attack.
CBS 2’s Charlie De Mar has reported Smollett also directed the brothers to buy the noose at a hardware store and the hat and masks at a store in Uptown. Johnson said police have the check.
Police said the two brothers wore gloves during the staged attack, and did punch Smollett, but the scratches and bruises on Smollett’s face most likely were self-inflicted.
“Jussie Smollett knew that at the time … there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed,” the indictment says.
Smollett was charged last month with a single felony count of disorderly conduct/filing a false report based on allegations brought by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office.
According to CWB Chicago, the grand jury’s indictment states that Smollett made his false report initially to a Chicago beat cop and then did a follow-up interview with a detective later that day.
In one set of charges, the grand jury found that Smollet filed a false police report around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29th in which he told an officer that he was attacked near 341 East Lower North Water Street by two unknown men who were dressed in black and one of whom wore a ski mask. The jury further found that Smollett told the original officer that the attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs and struck him in the face with their hands. The police report connected to these charges also indicate that Smollett claimed that a noose had been placed around his neck and a “chemical” had been poured on him.
The second set of charges returned by the grand jury involves Smollett’s alleged false reporting of the incident to a police detective later the same day. Additional details that Smollett apparently included in the second interview include: the men approached him from behind, Smollett fought back, and all three men fell to the ground where Smollett said he was kicked in the back and felt someone pulling on his neck. During this interview, Smollett also told the officer that one offender was a white male wearing a black mask with an open area around the eyes that exposed the attacker’s skin, the grand jury found.
Although Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said last month that his department believed that Smollett was also responsible for mailing the threat letter to himself, no charges were brought against Smollett in connection with the letter. According to TMZ, “the brothers told police they had nothing to do with the letter, and only saw it in a photo on Jussie’s phone.”
As CWB Chicago notes, Smollett is unlikely to be convicted on more than a tiny fraction of the charges.
Most Cook County criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains in which a defendant pleads guilty to one and, rarely, two counts of an indictment in return for a favorable sentence. Only by going to trial do most defendants run the real risk of being convicted of more than one or two counts.