UPDATE (2/21): Jussie Smollett has been arrested and is in custody in Chicago. The actor faces a felony charge for filing a false report in connection to what he claimed was a hate crime attack that police now believe he staged. Chicago police said in a press conference on Thursday morning that the actor staged the attack because he was “dissatisfied with his salary.”
The charge, which is considered a Class 4 felony, was announced on Wednesday following a statement made earlier in the day that Smollett was “classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report,” according to Chicago Police Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi’s tweet. He added that detectives were presenting evidence before a grand jury. If convicted on the charge, he could face probation to three years in prison.
Case Update: Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury. pic.twitter.com/FhDcbBKsuU
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 20, 2019
Smollett’s attorneys Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson did not immediately return Rolling Stone‘s request for comment.
“Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence,” Smollett’s attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, said in a statement via the Tribune. “Particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
On January 29th, Smollett was hospitalized after he allegedly suffered a racist and homophobic attack while walking down a street in Chicago where his apartment is located. Smollett had come out as gay during an appearance on Ellen in March 2015. In the report he filed with Chicago Police, the actor claimed he was approached by two people who “gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him.” The report describes an alleged assault that included an unknown substance being poured on the victim and “one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck.”
At the time, police issued a statement saying they were “treating it as a possible hate crime” and shortly after the attack was reported, Chicago police detectives had located surveillance footage that “show potential persons of interest.” The two persons of interest, reported to be Nigerian brothers who appeared on Empire and worked with Smollet, were arrested, questioned and released without being charged on Friday.
In the weeks following Smollett’s initial report, celebrities and others conveyed their support on social media, while others questioned the validity of the report. Police combed video surveillance, but did not immediately unveil evidence of the alleged attack, which led to further public speculation on its validity, though authorities released photos from one video surveillance tape that reportedly captured the brothers who were questioned and released. Smollett had also stated that he was on the phone with his music manager, who could corroborate information, but rather than turning over his full phone records, the actor submitted redacted records to the police almost two weeks after the initial report, as NBC 5 Chicago reported.
Shortly following the brothers’ release on Friday, Smollett issued a statement via his lawyers. “As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” Pugh and Henderson said in a statement.
On Tuesday, the two brothers appeared at the criminal courthouse and authorities told the Tribune the brothers spoke with prosecutors and detectives. The brothers’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, told the Tribune that they appeared before a grand jury early on Wednesday. According to the Tribune, authorities had recently said they were investigating whether Smollett had paid two brothers he was familiar with to stage the attack. Schmidt said the brothers received money from Smollett at some point, though did not provide further details.