A Chicago grand jury indicted Empire‘s Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts Friday, NBC 5 Chicago reports. The charges are related to the actor’s alleged staging of a hate crime against himself in January.
Smollett reportedly told police that two men approached him and began hurling racist and homophobic slurs at him. According to the original account, the two men beat Smollett, placed a noose around his neck and doused him with a chemical substance (believed to be bleach), then fled. Smollett also told police that the assailants “yelled pro-‘Make America Great Again’ [MAGA] comments” during the attack.
Later developments cast doubt on Smollett’s account, including the questioning of two suspects — a pair of Nigerian brothers, one of whom worked as a personal trainer on a music video of Smollett’s — who were later released without being charged. Smollett’s lawyers have insisted that the actor played no role in his attack.
He was charged in February with one count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. He was arrested on Feb. 21; in the press conference that followed, Chicago Police alleged that Smollett staged the attack in order to gain a larger salary at the Fox drama. Smollett was written out of the final two episodes of Empire in response to his legal troubles; the show is mulling the idea of recasting his character, Jamal.
One of Smollett’s attorneys, Mark Geragos, put out the following statement on Friday:
The fact of an indictment was not unexpected. We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination. What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie. 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.