A Cook County, Illinois, grand jury has returned a six-count indictment against actor Jussie Smollett for making false reports to police that he was a victim of a hate crime, a special prosecutor said Tuesday.
Smollett, who is gay and black, said he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack near his Chicago apartment on January 29, 2019.
Chicago police investigated the case as a hate crime but later said the actor orchestrated the incident and paid two men who were acquaintances from the TV show on which he starred — brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — to stage the incident for publicity. The former “Empire” actor has repeatedly denied making up or orchestrating the attack.
Dan K. Webb, the special prosecutor assigned in August to investigate how local prosecutors handled the TV actor’s case, said in a statement his office “has now completed all of its investigative steps regarding Jussie Smollett, and has made the decision to further prosecute Mr. Smollett.”
“Based on the recommendation of the OSP (Office of the Special Prosecutor), a Cook County grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Jussie Smollett with making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers related to his false claims that he was the victim of a hate crime, knowing that he was not the victim of a crime,” the statement said.
Webb, a former US attorney, concluded that Smollett’s prosecution is “in the interest of justice.”
Several factors went into Webb’s determination, “including the extensive nature of Mr. Smollett’s false police reports, and the resources expended by the Chicago Police Department to investigate these false reports.”
Smollett was initially indicted in March on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct, but Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx suddenly dropped all charges weeks later. Prosecutors said Smollett had forfeited $10,000 in bail money and done community service.
Foxx, who is seeking re-election, had recused herself from the case last year in response to rumors she was “related” or “closely connected” to Smollett’s family, according to documents from the prosecutor’s office.
The special prosecutor’s office said it has “sufficient factual evidence to determine that it disagrees” with how Foxx’s office handled the case, but it’s unclear what the indictment means for Foxx and her reelection campaign.
“The CCSAO decision-makers overseeing the Smollett resolution decision have not identified any new evidence they learned of between the time of indictment and dismissal of the indictment that changed their view that the evidence against Mr. Smollett was strong,” the statement from Webb’s office said.
The special prosecutor’s office said the state’s attorney’s office was unable to provide “documentary evidence that shows that, in dismissing the Smollett case on the terms presented in court on March 26, 2019, the CCSAO relied on other dispositions of similar cases prior to the Smollett case that would justify this disposition,” the statement said.
In a March 26, 2019 news release, the state’s attorney’s office “told the public that the Smollett case was being resolved under the same criteria that would be available for any defendant with similar circumstances,” Webb’s statement said.
In a statement Tuesday, Foxx’s office said, “The special prosecutor reviewed the facts, evidence, and the law, and determined charges were appropriate in this matter.”
But her reelection campaign questioned the timing of the charges.
In a statement, Friends for Foxx noted that Foxx’s office had charged Smollett.
“What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision, just 35 days before an election, which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive,” the statement said.
The case has become an election issue among Foxx’s Democratic opponents. In a reelection video released in November, Foxx admitted to making missteps with the Smollett case.
“Truth is, I didn’t handle it well,” she said. “I own that. I’m making changes in my office to make sure we do better.”
In a statement, Smollett’s attorney Tina Glandian said the special prosecutor “has not found any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever related to the dismissal of the charges against Mr. Smollett.”
“Rather, the charges were appropriately dismissed the first time because they were not supported by the evidence,” Glandian said. “The attempt to re-prosecute Mr. Smollett one year later on the eve of the Cook County State’s Attorney election is clearly all about politics not justice.”
Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, who represents the Osundairo brothers, said they are aware of the new charges.
“As stated before, they are fully committed to the public knowing the truth about what occurred on January 29, 2019,” she said in a statement. “The Osundairo brothers will continue to cooperate with that process and they thank the Special Prosecutor’s office for their tireless work in seeing that justice was administered.”
Smollett faces a civil suit from the city that demands reimbursement for the cost of investigating his reported attack. He filed a countersuit in November.
Smollett’s attorneys claim the criminal charges against the him were brought forth in “bad faith” and “based on the Osundairo Brothers’ false, self-serving, and unreliable statements,” court documents say.
Smollett is scheduled to appear in court February 24.