Jussie Smollett was charged Wednesday evening with disorderly conduct after allegedly filing a false police report about his assault in Chicago last month, according to the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. “Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest,” tweeted police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.
Chicago-based attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, who are representing Smollett, wrote in a statement: “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett enjoys the presumption of innocence, 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.”
The news of the felony charge comes hours after the Chicago Police Department announced that the “Empire” actor was being treated as a suspect in the criminal investigation. Police said days ago that they wanted to speak with Smollett again after discovering new evidence that had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.”
Smollett previously told police he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two individuals who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him. He said at least one assailant told him “this is MAGA country” during the alleged attack. Chicago police said last month they were investigating the alleged assault against Smollett, who is black and openly gay, as a possible hate crime.
Police have not publicly discussed the new evidence that prompted them to request a follow-up interview with Smollett. But they said the information came up in interviews with two individuals who were arrested by police last week and released Friday without being charged. Police say at least one of the two men – who are brothers and of Nigerian descent – worked on the Fox drama with Smollett, but declined to say whether the actor knew them.
There have been heightened doubts about Smollett’s allegations amid increasing news reports, which cite unnamed police sources, that Smollett may have staged the attack. In a statement, late Saturday, Pugh and Henderson said Smollett had “been further victimized by claims” he “played a role in his own attack.”
“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” they wrote in the statement, which said one of the individuals who spoke to police was a personal trainer who Smollett hired to help him get ready for a music video.
Smollett has aligned himself in the past with organizations dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness, civil rights and LGBTQ advocacy. He invoked this alignment while discussing the skepticism surrounding his assertions during an interview that aired last week on “Good Morning America.”
“I’m an advocate. I respect too much the people – who I am now, one of those people – who have been attacked in any way,” he told ABC’s Robin Roberts. “You do such a disservice when you lie about things like this.”
When details of Smollett’s alleged assault were released by police last month, celebrities and other high-profile figures rallied around him – some seizing on the apparently racist and homophobic nature of the alleged attack or the reported invocation of President Trump’s “Make American Great Again” campaign slogan. But mounting questions surrounding the case has led to some unease.
“Why would he make it harder for people who actually suffer from hate crimes? It makes no sense. The lie is so damaging,” writer Roxane Gay tweeted Saturday. She previously wrote that she hoped Smollett “knows how many people are thinking of him and committed to holding this administration and its ilk accountable for this hothouse of hate being fostered.”
Some have also questioned whether Smollett staged the attack to prevent himself from being written out of “Empire,” a theory that 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment denied Wednesday in a statement that referred to the actor as “a consummate professional on set.”
Several politicians initially spoke out in support of Smollett but have since adjusted their stances, including Sens. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, Democratic presidential candidates who called for judgement to be withheld until the investigation is complete. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., deleted a tweet that referred to the alleged attack as “an affront to our humanity.”
Others, such as filmmaker Ava Duvernay, have expressed caution in believing the Police Department’s statements on the case: “Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times?” she tweeted. “Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.”
Guglielmi told The Associated Press on Tuesday that police were investigating a tip that Smollett and the two brothers were seen together in the elevator of his apartment building the night of the alleged attack. Guglielmi, who tweeted Tuesday night that the tip was “unfounded,” said it could not be corroborated by video evidence.