CHICAGO (Reuters) – Former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett was charged on Tuesday in a six-count felony indictment with staging a phony hate crime, nearly a year after similar charges were abruptly dismissed by local prosecutors.
FILE PHOTO: Actor Jussie Smollett leaves the Leighton Criminal Court Building after his hearing in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski
The six-count grand jury indictment accuses Smollett, 37, who is black and openly gay, of making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers related to his account that he was the victim of a hate crime.
The indictment specifically charges the actor with six counts of disorderly conduct.
The dismissal of the earlier charges on March 26, 2019, drew an outcry from then-Mayor Rham Emanuel and the city’s police superintendent, who branded the reversal a miscarriage of justice, and led to a Cook County judge appointing former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb to review the case.
A Cook County grand jury returned the new indictment of Smollett at Webb’s recommendation after nearly a year of investigation by his office.
The probe “revealed that Jussie Smollett planned and participated in a staged hate crime attack, and thereafter made numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions, reporting a heinous hate crime that he, in fact, knew had not occurred,” Webb said in a statement released in conjunction with the indictment.
“Therefore, Mr. Webb has determined that reasonable grounds exist to further prosecute Mr. Smollett,” he said.
Neither Smollett’s lawyers nor publicist immediately responded to requests for comment.
Smollett has continued to insist that he was telling the truth when he reported that he was accosted on the street in January 2019 by two masked men, who he said threw a noose around his neck and poured chemicals on him while yelling racist and homophobic slurs and expressions of support for U.S. President Donald Trump.
The actor, who played a singer-songwriter on the Fox television “Empire” but was dropped from the show after the alleged attack, sued the city of Chicago in November, accusing municipal officials of maliciously prosecuting him.
Reporting by Brendan O’Brien and Karen Pierog in Chicago; Additional reporting in Los Angeles by Jill Serjeant; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Chris Reese and Cynthia Osterman