A grand jury in Chicago on Thursday charged American actor Jussie Smollett with 16 new felony counts after he allegedly filed a false police report claiming he was the victim of a racist and homophobic attack.
Jussie Smollett, a gay black actor in the US television series “Empire,” told Chicago police last month that two masked men beat him, looped a rope around his neck, poured an unknown substance on him and hurled racist and anti-gay slurs, saying, “This is MAGA country,” in reference to US President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Police initially investigated the incident as a possible hate crime but later said Smollett staged the attack in an attempt to gain publicity and a better salary.
He was charged last month with one felony count of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report.
The 16 new charges include eight counts relating to what he told the officer who responded to the report of the attack and eight for what he later told a detective.
-Jussie Smollett denies allegations-
Smollett has denied all allegations against him, and in a statement, his attorney Mark Geragos denounced what he called “prosecutorial overkill.”
“Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption,” Geragos said.
“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,” Geragos said.
Detectives initially became suspicious about Smollett’s story after speaking to two suspects — two brothers who are also black — who said Smollett had paid them $3,500 (€3,088) to carry out the attack.
-Smollett’s ‘Empire’ character cut from episodes-
“He took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters the day Smollett was initially charged.
Johnson said Smollett also sent a threatening racist and homophobic letter to himself at the Twentieth Century Fox studio before the attack.
Since the allegations came out, the producers of “Empire” announced that the actor’s character would be removed from the season’s final two episodes.