A Cook County grand jury has formally indicted Jussie Smollett, heaping 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct on the “Empire” actor for allegedly staging a hoax hate-crime attack on himself in January.
Smollett, who was arrested last month on a criminal complaint with a single count of disorderly conduct, will be arraigned on the new charges on Thursday.
The indictment, which was made public on Friday, cites Smollett with disorderly conduct for each crime he said he had suffered, with separate counts related to statements he made the night of Jan. 29 to a police officer, and then for repeating the same account to a detective the same night. The charges all are Class 4 felonies, the lowest category of felony offense under Illinois law.
In high-profile cases, adding counts to the initial criminal complaints are not uncommon, either as a hedge against making a case in the most serious charges at trial, to send a message to the defendant, or both.
In a statement, Smollett’s attorney Mark Geragos said while the indictment is “not unexpected…What is unexpected however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts.”
“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.”
The Chicago Sun-Times reported Thursday that police have opened an internal investigation into the source of information leaked anonymously to media during the department’s investigation and that a Northwestern Memorial Hospital employee said that she and possibly others were fired for inappropriately accessing Smollett’s records, violating hospital rules.
The actor said that he was attacked by two men near his home in the Streeterville neighborhood after getting a sandwich from a Subway franchise at around 2 a.m. His attackers, the actor said, hurled homophobic and racist slurs as the hit him, poured an what appeared to be bleach on him, and put a thin noose around his neck.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, said he had been targeted because of his activism, and two weeks after the alleged attack, went on “Good Morning America” and gave a tearful interview in which he expressed outrage over leaks to the media and doubters who questioned his story on social media.
Chicago police investigated the case for three weeks, eventually identifying two brothers with ties to Smollett— one had worked his personal trainer, and both had been extras on episodes of “Empire”— as his “attackers.” After 47 hours in police custody, the pair told police that Smollett has paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, in an effort to raise the actor’s profile and win him a higher salary for his role on the TV show.
Smollett surrendered to police on Feb. 21 and has remained free on $100,000 bond. A spokeswoman for his legal team did not immediately respond to requests for comment.