CHICAGO, March 8 - A grand jury in Chicago has returned a 16-count felony indictment against television actor Jussie Smollett, accusing him of filing a false police report of being the victim of a hate-crime assault, local media reported on Friday, citing court records.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay and plays a gay character on the Fox network hip-hop drama "Empire," was previously charged in a criminal complaint with lying to police about a supposed racist and homophobic attack on Jan. 29 by supporters of President Donald Trump.
Smollett's character was removed from the final two episodes of the hip-hop drama "Empire" after he was arrested and charged with staging a hoax hate crime attack on himself, according to show officials.
"We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and, to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of 'Jamal' from the final two episodes of the season," 20th Century Fox Television said in a statement.
Smollett claimed that he was assaulted and called racial and homophobic slurs. Chicago Police claimed they have reason to believe that the actor orchestrated the event, according to a New York Times report.
The Empire star was reportedly attacked by two masked figures, later said to be brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo. They, however, told investigators they were paid to take part in a hoax.
“After we spoke to the former suspects last night, detectives reached out to Jussie Smollett’s attorneys and expressed interest that we need to talk to him again,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department, confirming that the brothers are no longer suspects.
One of the brothers, both of whom were detained, was an extra on Smollett’s television show. By the weekend, both brothers were released without charges.
Smollett had previously claimed that he believed the attackers were supporters of US President Donald Trump.
The Empire star was taken into custody after police discovered that the actor planned the alleged attack on himself due to dissatisfaction with his salary.
The move came a day after the 36-year-old was charged with lying to Chicago police about the allegedly staged incident, in which he said two masked men beat him and slung a noose around his neck while yelling racist and homophobic abuse.
Smollett faces up to three years in prison if convicted in the case, which fueled political divisions that have roiled the United States since Donald Trump's 2016 election.
"The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us," the show's co-creators and producers said in a statement. "While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out."
Lawyers for Smollett did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
According to police, the actor, who is black and openly gay, paid two brother $3,500 to attack him on Jan. 29 in the hope of advancing his career and because he was unhappy with salary.
Police did not spell out how he hoped to boost his salary by staging such a hoax.
While the actor initially received an outpouring of support on social media, others were skeptical about the attack, which he said took place outside his Chicago apartment at 2 a.m. on a frigid night.
In his account, Smollett said his attackers also shouted "This is MAGA country," referring to Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
The Jewish actor apparently "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," according to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson.
Smollett has already received backlash for the accusations. Donald Trump, Jr. said, “It appears that Jussie Smollett tried to manufacture a hate crime to make Trump supporters look bad, and most of the media not only uncritically accepted his lies as facts for weeks, but attacked those who questioned the validity of his false story.”
“The Smollett story isn’t about conservatives pouncing,” wrote political commentator Ben Shapiro. “It’s about an insane hoax propped up and promulgated as ‘Trump’s America’ for political purposes.”
Ryan Fournier, a political commentator and the chairman of Students for Trump, said, “This is how mentally insane the Left has become. They will do anything to bring us down. Well it’s not happening, because Jussie is going to jail.”
Smollet also provided false information to Los Angeles law enforcement authorities in 2007, and police in Chicago have requested details regarding the case after Smollett was accused of faking a self-inflicted hate-crime upon himself.
According to a Washington Times
report, the actor pleaded no contest to these charges in 2007, including a DUI and driving without a license. He received two years probation for his actions.
The actor’s attorneys released a statement on Saturday, claiming “Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with.
“He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack,” the statement continued. “Nothing is further from the truth, and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
"Celebrities, news commentators, and even presidential candidates weighed in on something that was choreographed by an actor," his attorneys continued.
"What about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments?!" Trump wrote on Twitter on Thursday morning in response to the new developments in Smollett's case.
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