Obstruction of Jussie: What’s really going on with Smollett?
Not only is the actor facing jail time, but he may have to pay for the huge cost of the investigation
Jussie Smollett, the Empire actor, has been charged with making a false police report when he said he was attacked in central Chicago by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs and looped a rope around his neck.
Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said prosecutors charged Smollett with felony disorderly conduct, an offence that could bring one to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of a January 29 beating.
Police were trying to get in touch with Smollett’s lawyers to “negotiate a reasonable surrender”, Guglielmi said. That could involve Smollett turning himself in to a Chicago police station.
He said he did not have a timeframe for how long the actor would be given.
“We are trying to be diplomatic and reasonable, and we’re hoping he does the same,” Guglielmi said.
The charges emerged on the same day detectives and two brothers, who were earlier deemed suspects, testified before a grand jury.
In a statement, lawyers Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said 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”.
The announcement of the charges came after a flurry of activity in recent days that included lengthy interviews of the brothers by authorities, a search of their home and their release after police cleared them.
Investigators have not said what the brothers told detectives or what evidence detectives collected. But it became increasingly clear that serious questions had arisen about Smollett’s account, something police signalled on Friday when they announced a “significant shift in the trajectory” of the probe after the brothers were freed.
Smollett, who is black and gay and plays a gay character on the hit Fox television show, said he was attacked as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop. He said the masked men beat him, made derogatory comments and yelled: “This is MAGA country!” – an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, Make America Great Again – before fleeing.
Earlier on Wednesday, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character was not being written off the show. The series is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry.
The studio’s statement followed reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation.
Whispers about Smollett’s potential role in the attack started with reports that he had not fully co-operated with police and word that detectives in a city bristling with surveillance cameras could not find a video of the attack.
Investigators did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question and last week picked up the brothers at O’Hare Airport as they returned from Nigeria. Police questioned the men and searched their apartment.
The brothers, who were identified by their attorney as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett before being released.
The next day, police said the men provided information that had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation”, and detectives requested another interview with Smollett.
Police said one of the men had appeared on Empire, and Smollett’s lawyers said one of the men is the actor’s personal trainer, whom he hired to help get him physically ready for a music video. The actor released his debut album, Sum of My Music, last year.
Speaking outside the courthouse where the grand jury met, the brothers’ lawyer said the two men testified for about two-and-a-half hours.
“There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said we’re going to correct this,” Gloria Schmidt said.
She said her clients did not care about a plea deal or immunity. “You don’t need immunity when you have the truth,” she said.
She also said her clients received money from Smollett, but she did not elaborate.
Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Senator Kamala Harris of California and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely threw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if they had no prior criminal record.
Smollett has a record, one that concerns giving false information to police when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to records, he was also charged with false impersonation and driving without a licence. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment programme.
Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a massive investigation that lasted nearly a month and included the collection and review of hundreds of hours of surveillance video.
The size of the tab is anyone’s guess, but given how much time the police have invested, the cost could be huge.
Weisberg recently represented a client who was charged with making a false report after surveillance video discredited her account of being robbed by three men at O’Hare Airport. For an investigation that took only a single day, his client had to split restitution of $8,400, Weisberg said. In Smollett’s case, “I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars”.
Also on Wednesday, Chicago’s top prosecutor, attorney Kim Foxx, announced she had recused herself from the investigation.
Her office explained that Foxx made the decision “out of an abundance of caution” because of conversations she had with one of Smollett’s family members just after the report. When the relative expressed concerns about the case, Foxx “facilitated a connection” between the family member and detectives, according to a statement.
Foxx said the case would be handed to her first assistant, Joseph Magats, a 28-year veteran prosecutor.
– © The Daily Telegraph