Jussie Smollett Indicted on 16 Counts That He Falsely Reported Assault, Records Show


New York Times

A grand jury indicted Jussie Smollett, the actor from the television series “Empire,” on Thursday on 16 counts of disorderly conduct after the authorities said he falsely reported to the police that he had been attacked by two men who made racial and homophobic slurs, court records show.

Mr. Smollett, who is black and gay, had told the police in January that while he was walking in downtown Chicago to pick up food, he had been assaulted by two men who put a rope around his neck, poured a chemical substance on him and said it was “MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s campaign slogan of Make America Great Again.

About a dozen detectives were assigned to the case. Mr. Smollett, who the police said did not have serious injuries, received an outpouring of public support at a time when reported hate crimes were on the rise.

But last month, the authorities revealed that they believed the assault was staged and that Mr. Smollett was upset with his salary for his work on the television series and wanted publicity.

Eddie T. Johnson, the Chicago police superintendent, said Mr. Smollett had taken advantage of the pain of racism and diverted resources away from other criminal investigations.

“I just wish that the families of gun violence in this city got this much attention,” he said, referring to the news media.

The indictments, felony counts that were dated Thursday, alleged that Mr. Smollett falsely reported batteries, aggravated batteries and hate crimes. It was not immediately clear what the maximum sentence he could face would be if he was convicted.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Friday night.

Mark Geragos, a lawyer for Mr. Smollett, said in a statement that the indictment was “prosecutorial overkill” and “redundant and vindictive.”

“Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption,” Mr. Geragos said.

Mr. Smollett posted bail in February and returned to the set of “Empire” in Chicago, where the show was being shot.

The police said Mr. Smollett paid two brothers $3,500 to carry out the assault. Prosecutors said they had video of the brothers at the scene and their testimony about how Mr. Smollett recruited them.

The police said surveillance footage showed the brothers taking a cab from the area of the reported assault. Investigators interviewed the cabdriver and identified the passengers as the brothers: Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo.

Both had worked as extras on “Empire.” Mr. Smollett has acknowledged that he had paid one of them to train him for a music video.

The men flew to Nigeria soon after the staged encounter, the police said. When they returned to Chicago on Feb. 13, they were met by investigators and detained for two days, the authorities said. After interviewing the brothers, the police released them without charges.

Investigators had approached the case as a possible hate crime but had trouble finding evidence to match Mr. Smollett’s account. The attack was not visible on surveillance cameras.