A grand jury indicted Jussie Smollett on March 8 on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. He was charged for each time he told the story of being attacked by two men on Jan. 29 in an alleged hate crime.
Smollett stands by his story and has engaged high-profile attorney Mark Geragos to represent him since his arrest on Feb. 20, when he was charged with one count of disorderly conduct in the case.
On March 11, the Osundairo brothers, Ola and Abel, who were initially accused of perpetrating the attack, changed their story. One brother was an extra on “Empire” (the show in which Smollett stars) and the other was Smollett’s personal trainer. The brothers now acknowledge that Smollett wrote a $3,500 check to them for training, as Smollett has always asserted and as was written in the memo section of the check.
The brothers’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, revealed the new information on “Good Morning America” March 11. “GMA” originally aired the exclusive interview with Smollett and anchor Robin Roberts. Schmidt told “GMA” that the check was for personal training and that the brothers staged the attack for Smollett as “a personal favor” to the “Empire” star.
The Chicago Police Department’s case was built around the notion that Smollett had paid the brothers with the check to stage the attack. In a long, televised news conference on Feb. 21, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson had insisted that the check was payment for the attack, telling reporters, “Smollet paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process.”
A visibly outraged Johnson also asserted that Smollett had staged the attack on himself in a bid for more money for his role on “Empire” because he was “dissatisfied with his salary.” But as Smollett’s attorney told CNN’s Anderson Cooper in an exclusive interview on March 8, there is no evidence that Smollett was dissatisfied with his pay scale at the hit Fox drama.
Geragos also said Smollett never mentioned his salary to anyone at “Empire.” He never asked for more money nor did he contact his agent to ask for more money.
Geragos called the 16-count indictment “prosecutorial overkill.” High-profile Chicago attorney Terry Sullivan said in a news report, “What you have is a police department and prosecutors that are obviously mad at him for embarrassing the city so they took every one of his lies and made it into another count.”
Even Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has faced stiff criticism over his handling of the Laquan McDonald case in which Chicago police covered up the circumstances of the police shooting of the 17-year-old black teenager in 2014, reinforced Johnson’s narrative about Smollett. Emanuel told CNN anchor Don Lemon, who is also black and gay and was outspoken on the Smollett attack, “If you want to get paid more, get an agent.”
Smollett has had an agent for years.
Geragos also questioned why the Osundairo brothers were never charged in the attack or if the attack was staged, as accessories.
On March 11, it was also revealed that on March 7, the day before the indictment, the Chicago Police Department opened an internal investigation into leaks in the Smollett investigation.
The grand jury returned two separate sets of charges, one for each lie Smollett allegedly told. The first set is related to what Smollett told officers about the alleged attack, including that the attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs, struck him with their hands, put a noose around his neck and poured some sort of chemical substance on him.
The second set of charges is related to the second interview Smollett had with the police about the alleged attack later that day, saying the men attacked him from behind and he fell to the ground, at which point the men kicked him. The two sets of charges correspond to two sets of police officers Smollett allegedly lied to.
A charge of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report carries a possible sentence of probation to three years. Smollett already pleaded not guilty to the first disorderly conduct charge. He was taken into custody and posted $100,000 bond. The usual amount for disorderly conduct ranges from $25 bail to up to $1,000. Voluntary manslaughter is the only crime for which $100,000 bail is typically set. Even involuntary manslaughter only stipulates a $25,000 bond.
Smollett had also reported a threatening letter containing a white powder sent to him on the “Empire” set a week before the alleged attack. The letter is currently in the FBI crime lab for analysis, sources said. The grand jury made no mention of the letter, which is the other linchpin in the CPD’s case against Smollett. Johnson stated that when there was insufficient response to the letter, Smollett staged the attack.
Smollett’s supporters have not wavered.
“Until somebody can show me some proof otherwise, I’m going with him,” Queen Latifah told a media outlet. “The guy I’ve seen has always been someone who cares about people, who cares about others, and who’s very kind and who’s always been cool and sweet. That’s just the guy I know.” She added, “So until I can see some definitive proof — which I haven’t seen yet — I gotta go with him until I see otherwise.”
Oscar-nominated director Ava DuVernay has tweeted that she refused to “blindly believe” the Chicago Police Department. She referred to the CPD as “the department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times” and “that operated an off-site torture facility.”
On March 8, journalist Jemele Hill tweeted her own outrage over the indictment, querying, “Who the hell they think he kidnapped, Chelsea Clinton?”
On March 12, the court ruled on whether the media could be in the courtroom during future proceedings. Smollett was in court for that motion and did not file an objection. At press time, Smollett was expected to plead not guilty to the charges against him in a court date scheduled for March 14. “Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption,” Geragos said.