A US television actor who was accused of fabricating a hate crime was indicted on six counts related to the incident on Tuesday after all charges against him were dropped last year.
Former “Empire” star Jussie Smollett was indicted by a grand jury in Cook County, which handles crimes in Chicago, on six counts of disorderly conduct related to the alleged false reporting.
The 37-year-old, who had been one of the Fox musical drama’s main cast members, was accused of masterminding a hoax attack in Chicago to gain publicity and secure a bigger paycheck.
He reported to police in January 2019 that he was attacked in the middle of the night by two masked men while walking near his home in the large midwestern city.
But Chicago police eventually said he staged the whole thing.
Smollett, who is gay and African American, maintained his innocence in the face of a damning public account from authorities of their case against him.
They accused him of sending himself a threatening letter — complete with homophobic and racial slurs — and hiring two acquaintances to stage the attack while invoking Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The curious case got even weirder when Cook County prosecutors eventually dropped the initial 16 felony counts against him last March.
The city did, however, send a letter to Smollett’s attorneys, asking the actor to pay the $130,000 cost of overtime work related to the police investigation.
The episode revived America’s long-simmering debate about how just the country’s criminal justice system really is, whether the rich get off easy — and whether prosecutors should have so much discretion.
President Donald Trump on Thursday announced that the FBI and Justice Department will review Illinois prosecutors’ decision to drop all charges against a US television actor accused of fabricating a hate crime.
Calling the Chicago case involving “Empire” star Jussie Smollett “outrageous,” Trump said: “It is an embarrassment to our Nation!”
Prosecutors said they had shelved all 16 felony charges against Smollett in exchange for an agreement that he carries out community service and forfeit a $10,000 bond payment.
But Smollett’s lawyers claimed there was no such agreement, saying the state simply “dismissed the charges,” and that the actor was the victim of a rush to judgment.
The 36-year-old, one of the main cast members on Fox musical drama “Empire” alongside Taraji P. Henson, was accused of masterminding a hoax attack in downtown Chicago to gain publicity and secure a bigger paycheck.
He reported to police that he was attacked in the middle of the night in January by two masked men while walking near his home.
Smollett, who is gay and African American, maintained his innocence in the face of a damning public account from authorities’ of their case against him.
They accused him of sending himself a threatening letter and hiring two acquaintances to stage the attack, complete with homophobic and racial slurs while invoking Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Smollett was accused of sending himself a threatening letter and hiring two acquaintances to stage a street attack, complete with homophobic and racial slurs, while invoking Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
The case invoked widespread sympathy for the actor and outrage over the attack.
But the actor was later written out of the last two episodes of the Fox Network television program “Empire,” amid uproar over the accusations against him.
The producers of the program said they had no comment about the latest developments.
US police on Wednesday charged a TV actor with lying to authorities about being the victim of a racist and homophobic attack on the streets of Chicago.
Jussie Smollett, a gay and black actor who stars in the Fox network drama “Empire,” is facing felony criminal charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report.
He claimed that on January 29, two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago while yelling racist and homophobic slurs.
The alleged incident initially seemed to serve as an example of growing intolerance in the US and led to an outpouring of support for the actor. But over the following weeks, the 36-year-old went from victim to suspect.
“Felony criminal charges have been approved by Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement late Wednesday.
“Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest.”
Smollett’s attorneys promised to conduct their own investigation and mount “an aggressive defense.”
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a statement.
The actor reported to police that his alleged assailants poured bleach on him, tied a rope around his neck, and yelled “This is MAGA country” — a reference to US President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
But detectives grew suspicious of the account after interrogating two men who reportedly revealed that they were hired to stage the incident.
Chicago TV station WBBM said the men, brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, claimed Smollett was unhappy that a threatening letter he had earlier received at the Chicago studios where “Empire” is filmed had not received enough attention.
A rush to judgment
Gloria Schmidt, the brothers’ attorney, told reporters Wednesday that the men testified under oath about what they knew without a plea agreement and did not expect to be charged with a crime.
“They’re not guilty of anything,” Schmidt said.
“I think Jussie Smollett should come clear because the truth will set him free,” she said.
The initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock. An outpouring of support came from public figures such as Emma Watson, Katy Perry, and Joe Biden.
Senators and Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris both called the incident “an attempted modern-day lynching.”
President Trump commented that the alleged attack was “horrible.”
But Smollett’s story appeared to unravel with a steady stream of leaks to US media and has since become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.
“Many politicians and journalists seemed to suspend all critical thought in a campaign to indict not just Mr. Smollett’s attackers but the country as a whole,” opinion writer Noah Rothman wrote in The New York Times.
The Chicago Tribune newspaper echoed that sentiment while warning that the crime Smollett described “certainly was possible.”
A 2018 analysis published by The Center for Public Integrity found more than 2.4 million crimes between 2012 and 2016 in which hate was suspected to be a motivating factor.
FBI statistics show hate crimes rose 17 percent in the US in 2017, especially against African-American and Jewish populations.
“The real tragedy in all of this is that hate crimes are, in fact, on the rise in the Trump era,” Rothman said.
Senator Harris was among those struggling to reconcile her initial statements with how the case has unfolded when asked Monday by a reporter about what she now thought of Smollett’s claims.
“It’s something we should all take seriously whenever anyone alleges that kind of behavior, but there should be an investigation,” Harris said, according to Fox News.
Actor Jussie Smollett of the US television program “Empire” was hospitalized Tuesday in Chicago following a possibly hate-motivated attack in which assailants tied a rope around his neck, police and his co-workers said.
News of the early morning attack left the entertainment world reeling and gay advocacy groups speaking out in support of the 36-year-old actor.
Smollett was beaten at around 2:00 am by two attackers who yelled “racial and homophobic slurs” while he walked downtown in the third-biggest US city, said police, who did not name him but said the victim was an actor from “Empire.”
Smollett’s fellow cast members and production company identified him as the victim.
The attackers poured “an unknown chemical substance” on him, and then wrapped a rope around the actor’s neck, according to police.
“Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime,” the Chicago Police Department said.
The actor and singer was reportedly in Chicago for a scheduled Saturday concert.
Senator Kamala Harris of California, who on the weekend launched her 2020 campaign to be America’s first black female president, called the incident “an attempted modern day lynching.”
“No one should have to fear for their life because of their sexuality or color of their skin. We must confront this hate,” Harris said on Twitter.
Members of the “Empire” production team and cast, as well as the studio that produces the program, also spoke out.
“The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own,” 20th Century Fox Television said in a statement.
The show’s co-creator Lee Daniels posted an Instagram video calling Jussie “my son.”
“You didn’t deserve, nor anybody deserves, to have a noose put around your neck,” Daniels said, addressing the actor.
“Hold your head up Jussie. I’m with you. I’ll be there in a minute. It’s just another fucking day in America,” he said.
Advocacy groups including The Trevor Project and the American Civil Liberties Union, quickly offered their support as well.
“LGBTQ people of color live at multiple intersections of oppression, too often facing violence compounded by both racism and homophobia,” the ACLU said.