Jussie Smollett indicted on 16 federal counts over allegedly staged attack
Jussie Smollett, the Empire actor who claimed to be the victim of an apparent racist attack, has been indicted on 16 federal counts by a Cook County grand jury. Originally, Smollett was charged with one Class 4 Felony charge of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. The jury applied 15 additional charges; one set for false statements given to police officer Muhammed Baig, and another set for false statements given to detective Kim Murray.
On January 29, Smollett, who is gay like his character on Empire, told the police he had been attacked by two "unknown males" dressed in black at around 2am in downtown Chicago. He claimed they called him "racial and homophobic slurs," hit him in the face, hung a noose around his neck and poured an "unknown chemical substance," on him, speculated to be bleach. He also claimed that one of the attackers said, "This is MAGA country," a reference to Donald Trump's presidential campaign slogan, Make America Great Again.
Following reports of the attack, which appeared to be a hate crime, celebrities and politicians sent their love to Jussie on social media. 20th Century Fox Television, which produces Empire, issued a public statement, expressing sadness and outrage over the "despicable act of violence." However, like the incident where the MAGA teen stared down a Native American playing a drum at the Lincoln Memorial, new information surfaced that radically changed the story.
The police conducted an investigation that lasted weeks. Detectives interviewed more than 100 individuals about the alleged assault and reviewed hundreds of hours of footage from surveillance cameras. Eventually, they discovered that the perpetrators of the attack were actually two black men, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, who were caught on camera buying supplies for the so-called attack. What's more, they were previously acquainted with Smollett, and claim they were paid $3,500 for their actions.
In a press conference, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said that Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was 'dissatisfied with his salary' on Empire. He also stated that the actor sent himself a threatening letter, which read, "You will die black f**," with "MAGA" scrawled on the upper left corner. According to Johnson, the 36-year-old "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career."
During an interview with ABC News' Robin Roberts, Smollett tearfully recounted the alleged attack and denied accusations of lying. Afterward, new details about the case surfaced and his story appeared to unravel. On social media, the tide turned, with people expressing outrage that Smollett would fake a hate crime. Yet the actor's attorneys issued a statement vehemently denying he played a role in the attack:
"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. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense."
Smollett will not appear in the final two episodes of this season of Empire, and Fox is said to be "considering its options" regarding the future. On March 14, Smollett will return to court in Chicago to face the charges. He faces a maximum of 48 years in prison if convicted, although legal experts believe he will strike a plea deal and not serve any time. On social media, some people say that the public humiliation and damage to his career might be punishment enough.