A Chicago grand jury on Friday indicted Empire actor Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to police about a supposed hate crime attack.
Smollett’s attorney Mark Geragos called the indictment “vindictive” and “prosecution overkill.”
“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,” Geragos said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter. “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.”
A request for more information from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office was not immediately returned, but the indictment reads, in part, “Jussie Smollett knew that at the time … there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed,” according to a section cited by CBS Chicago News.
The actor was charged last month with felony disorderly conduct and released on $100,000 bail.
Smollett reported in late January that he had been viciously attacked by two men who yelled pro-Donald Trump remarks mixed with racist and homophobic language.
Chicago detectives later determined that the Empire actor allegedly set up the highly publicized attack to further his career.
Smollett was subsequently arrested and charged with a felony in the case.
The actor and his attorneys maintain the actor had nothing to do with the assault other than being the victim of a hate crime.
According to police, two brothers helped Smollett orchestrate the faux assault and are now working with detectives to build the department’s case against the actor.
Smollett did one interview with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts after the assault report but has since gone off the radar, only speaking through his attorneys.
The actor is due back in court Thursday for the disorderly conduct charge.
In another aspect of the case, Chicago police have opened an internal investigation to determine who leaked information about the Smollett case, the department confirmed Friday to THR.
“I would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation,” Sgt. Rocco Alioto said in a statement to THR. “As a standard procedure when there are allegations of information being leaked, an internal investigation has been opened and we are also looking at our vulnerabilities.”
March 9, 7:19 p.m. Updated with statement from Smollett’s attorney.