Jussie Smollett's legal case just took another turn for the worse. On Thursday, a Cook County grand jury indicted him on 16 felony counts after allegedly lying to police about being the victim of a hate crime.
In January 2019, the 36-year-old Empire star was reported to have been targeted in an alleged racist, homophobic assault in Chicago. But a month later, after questioning two men, police classified Smollett a suspect in a criminal investigation and he was later arrested and charged with one felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. Police had accused him of paying the men to orchestrate an assault on him.
On Thursday, the grand jury indicted Smollett, who is out on $100,000 bail, on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.
"The fact of an indictment is not unexpected," his lawyer, Marc Geragos, told NBC News. "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."
"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," he added. "Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption."
In the indictment, obtained by E! News, the grand jury states in one set of charges that Smollett, who is black and gay, told officers that his attackers, "two unknown males, dressed in black and one of whom wore a black mask," approached him on January 29, "called him racial and homophobic slurs, and struck him about the face with their hands, causing bodily harm to him." He claimed the men "made physical contact of an insulting or provoking nature," poured an unknown chemical substance onto him and put a rope around his neck.
"Jussie Smollett knew that at the time of this transmission, there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed," the indictment states.
A second set of charges involves Smollett's comments to a police detective in a second interview, conducted later the same day.
The actor allegedly claimed to the officer that he was "the victim of a battery, a hate crime and an aggravated battery," saying that on January 29, he "heard racial and homophobic slurs, and two unknown offenders approached [him] from behind, punched [him] in the face, and that [he] fought back, and he and the two unknown offenders fell to the ground, where [he] was kicked in the back, felt pulling at his neck, and a liquid was poured onto him."
In February, Smollett had said in an interview with GMA's Robin Roberts, his only media interview about the alleged attack, that he believes the liquid in question was bleach.
The indictment also states that during that second interview with police, Smollett "reported that one of his attackers was a male, white, in dark clothing, wearing a black mask with an open eye area showing the skin around his eyes."
The new charges against Smollett each carry a potential sentence of probation to three years in prison if convicted, ABC Chicago reported, adding that the actor is unlikely to be convicted on more than a fraction of the charges, as most Cook County criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains.
The grand jury did not bring against Smollett any charges in connection to a threatening letter, containing a white powder later discovered to be aspirin, that he claimed he received weeks before the alleged attack. Chicago police had accused him of faking the letter and having it mailed to himself. The letter is currently in an FBI crime lab for analysis, sources told ABC Chicago.
Smollett's lawyers are due back in court next week.