Former 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett indicted again by grand jury in Chicago
The actor was accused of falsely reporting he was the victim of a hate crime.
Former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett was indicted Tuesday by a grand jury in Chicago after a special prosecutor re-investigated allegations hefalsely reported being the victim of a January 2019 hate-crime attack, officials said.
Smollett, 37, was indicted on six counts of disorderly conduct related to making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers, claiming he was the victim of a hate crime while "knowing he was not the victim of a crime," special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement on Tuesday.
Webb was appointed by a Cook County judge to continue looking into the case after the Cook County State's Attorney Office dropped all charges against the actor.
Webb said the Office of the Special Prosecutor has "now completed all of its investigative steps regarding Jussie Smollett, and has made the decision to further prosecute Mr. Smollett."
He said his office has made arrangements with Smollett's attorneys for the actor to voluntarily appear at an arraignment Feb. 24 in the Criminal Division of Cook County Circuit Court.
Smollett's attorney Tina Glandian questioned the "integrity of the investigation," noting that the same Chicago police detectives involved in the previous probe conducted the investigation that prompted the new charges.
"After more than five months of investigation, the Office of the Special Prosecutor has not found any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever related to the dismissal of the charges against Mr. Smollett," Glandian said in a statement. "Rather, the charges were appropriately dismissed the first time because they were not supported by the evidence."
Webb's investigation began Aug. 23, after Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Toomin appointed him special prosecutor.
Toomin directed Webb to launch an independent investigation to determine whether Smollett should be further prosecuted for the allegedly false reports he made to police and whether "any person or office involved in the Smollett case engaged in wrongdoing, including the Cook County State's Attorney's Office or individuals in that office," Webb's statement reads.
Webb said the grand jury's investigation revealed Smollett "planned and participated in a staged hate-crime attack."
Smollett made "numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions, reporting a heinous hate crime he, in fact, knew had not occurred," according to Webb.
The special prosecutor determined that "reasonable grounds exist" to further prosecute Smollett "in the interest of justice."
In deciding whether to pursue further charges against Smollett, Webb weighed the "extensive nature of Mr. Smollett's false police reports" and the resources expended by the Chicago Police Department" to investigate his bogus claims, Webb's statement reads.
Webb reached "no conclusions" on whether the Office of the Cook County State's Attorney or individuals in the office "engaged in any wrongdoing in connection with the Smollett investigation."
Another "major factor" in determining whether to prosecute Smollett was that the office of the Cook County State's Attorney was unable to provide to the special prosecutor evidence of similar cases that showed Smollett received no special treatment.
Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, who has been campaigning for reelection ahead of the March 17 Democratic primary, spoke out Wednesday morning on the new indictment, saying her office filed 16 counts of disorderly conduct against Smollett.
"It's the disposition that was cause for difference," Foxx told reporters outside her office. "But I think he [Webb] had the facts and the evidence and filed charges."
In a stunning move, Foxx office dropped all charges against Smollett in March despite acknowledging Smollett fabricated a street attack on himself in an attempt to get a pay raise.
Prior to the decision to drop the charges, Foxx recused herself from the Smollett probe after it surfaced that she had been in touch with Smollett's family. She left the decision on the disposition of the case to Joe Magats, the first assistant state attorney in Cook County.
Magats told ABC Chicago station WLS-TV at the time he was satisfied with Smollett forfeiting 10% of a $100,000 bond and preemptively completing community service prior to the charges being dropped.
"This was not an exoneration. To say that he was exonerated by us or anyone is not true," Magats said at the time.
On Wednesday, Foxx said her office has fully cooperated with Webb's investigation.
"Listen, we're continuing to avail ourselves to a review of how this case was handled," Foxx said. "As I said from the very beginning, we welcomed the non-political review and that's ongoing. So that's what I'll speak to."
In his statement, Webb noted that Foxx's office said in a March 2019 press release that the Smollett case was resolved "under the same criteria that would be available for any defendant with similar circumstances. Webb said that when he asked for documentary evidence to support the claim, the office of the State's Attorney "was unable to provided this documentary evidence."
"We certainly are cooperating as best we can and our folks will be huddling up to make sure that he [Webb] has everything that he needs," Foxx said.
During a candidates forum Tuesday night, Foxx's opponents called on her to resign. She did not participate in the forum, brushing off the criticism. "It's politics," she said.
Smollett told police that on Jan. 29, 2019, he was walking on a street near his Chicago apartment around 2 a.m. when he was set upon by two men. The attackers allegedly shouted racist and homophobic slurs before hitting him, pouring "an unknown chemical substance" on him -- possibly bleach -- and wrapping a rope around his neck, he told detectives.
Police said Smollett's story of being the victim of an attack began to unravel when police tracked down two men, brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who they said were seen in a security video near where Smollett claimed he was assaulted and around the same time it supposedly occurred.
The Osundairo brothers claimed, according to police, that Smollett paid them $3,500 to help him orchestrate and stage the crime after he became upset that a letter threatening him, sent Jan. 22 to the Fox studio where the television series "Empire" is filmed, did not get enough attention. Police later accused Smollett of writing the letter.
The brothers' attorney said the check from Smollett was payment for both the personal training and their help in staging the attack.
In mid-February 2019, in an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America," Smollett said he was heartbroken when he found out that people questioned the details of his story. He defended himself against skeptics who pointed out that it wasn't until a follow-up interview with the police that he mentioned that the assailants yelled "MAGA Country!" at him. He also complained about erroneous reports that he had told police that the attackers were actually wearing red MAGA hats.
"For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing," Smollett said. "I didn't need to add anything like that. They called me a f-----, they called me a n------. There's no which way you cut it. I don't need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae."
After charges were dropped against him, Smollett held a news conference and proclaimed his innocence.
"I've been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," he said. "I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of."
"This has been an incredibly difficult time," he added. "Honestly, one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith and I'm a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement into a fire like this. I just wouldn't. Now I'd like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life. But make no mistake I will always continue to fight for justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."
The city of Chicago responded by filing a civil suit against the actor, demanding he reimburse the city $130,106 in police overtime to investigate his attack claims.
Smollett countersued, claiming authorities "maliciously" prosecuted him.