Jussie Smollett, 37, was indicted Tuesday in Chicago by special prosecutor Dan Webb for allegedly lying about being a victim of a racist and anti-gay attack on him that he claims occurred in January 2019.
This is the second time he was charged for the same offense.
The charges stem from a report Smollett made a year ago when he told police that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 on his way home from a Subway sandwich shop.
At the time, Smollett played the gay character, Jamal Lyon, on the Fox TV show, Empire. He said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck.
He said they shouted, “This is MAGA country” – a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
He said he thought at least one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.
When he first reported the attack, it made national news and Chicago police were under pressure to catch the hate crime-committing white men.
Smollett drew a groundswell of support from fans, celebrities, and Democrat politicians. He gave emotional television interviews, telling the story on TV that he told police of how he fought the white men off heroically, telling this to police with the lynching rope still dangling from his neck.
Many Democrats called it another shocking instance of Trump-era racism and hate.
If these two white guys were ever caught, they were going to jail for years for their vicious Trump-motivated hate crime.
An investigation was conducted and the Chicago police soon found the attackers. They had proof they bought the rope and the bleach.
The men were not white, however. They were black and were known to Smollett.
Police said Smollett paid $3,500 to the two men, who are brothers, to stage a phony racist, anti-gay attack on himself, including giving them specific slurs to yell, telling them to shout “MAGA country” and pointing out a surveillance camera that he thought would record the beating.
The camera failed to record the attack.
The men were brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked with Smollett on his TV show, “Empire.”
An attorney for the brothers, Gloria Schmidt, admitted they participated in a staged attack and agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and that he was helping their careers.
Police concluded that Smollett’s motive in making the false report was that he wanted more money for his work on “Empire”, believed it would promote his career and perhaps make him a household name for bravery and activism in the gay and black community.
On March 7, 2019, the Cook County State Attorney approved a 16-count felony indictment against Smollett based on evidence that Smollett planned and participated in a staged hate crime attack, and, thereafter, made numerous false statements to Chicago Police Department officers on multiple occasions.
Smollett’s attorney, Tina Glandian, however, said Smollett never hired the brothers and had no idea who attacked him until the brothers were identified by police.
Yes, he had hired one brother as a personal trainer, and, yes, they had discussed training and nutrition in the hours before the attack. But the Osundairo brothers must have followed Smollett and, as he was leaving Subway, disguised as Trump supporters, savagely attacked him.
Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, said the two brothers were lying to get out of their own legal trouble arising from their Trump-induced attack on Smollett, insisting Smollett was “a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”
Smollett said he could not identify the Osundairo brothers, disguised as they were as Trump supporters because they were wearing ski masks. He made, in effect, an honest mistake and because these black men shouted racist slurs at him, he naturally concluded they were white.
On March 26, 2019, three weeks after he was indicted the first time, Cook County State Attorney’s Office made the decision to dismiss the 16-count felony indictment. Smollett’s punishment was to perform 15 hours of community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond as restitution to the City of Chicago.
Smollett was not required to admit wrongdoing.
The dismissal did not sit well with the police and the public.
On August 23, 2019, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Michael Toomin, a Republican, appointed Webb as a special prosecutor and directed him to conduct an independent investigation to determine whether Smollett should be further prosecuted for the alleged false reports he made to Chicago Police Department officers and whether any person or office involved in the Smollett case engaged in wrongdoing, including the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, its elected State Attorney, Kimm Foxx, a Democrat, or any individuals in her office.
Results came this week.
Smollett now faces six new felony counts of disorderly conduct, which can mean a prison sentence of more than five years, as well as a substantial mandatory fine.
Tina Glandian, attorney for Smollett, said the new charges are suspicious and rife with conflict of interest and dirty politics.
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx is running for reelection. Smollett’s case has become an issue in Foxx’s bid for a second term.
Her opponents say the Smollett dismissal shows she has bad judgment and favors the rich and powerful in deciding who will be prosecuted.
Smollett’s attorney, Glandian, said the attempt to re-prosecute Smollett “on the eve of the Cook County State’s Attorney election is clearly all about politics, not justice.”
Glandian said, “This indictment raises serious questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to the renewed charges against Mr. Smollett… After more than five months of investigation, the Office of the Special Prosecutor has not found any evidence of wrongdoing whatsoever related to the dismissal of the charges against Mr. Smollett. Rather, the charges were appropriately dismissed the first time because they were not supported by the evidence.
“The attempt to re-prosecute Mr. Smollett one year later on the eve of the Cook County State’s Attorney election is clearly all about politics, not justice.”
State Attorney Foxx’s campaign committee issued a statement referring to former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to reopen an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s email shortly before the presidential election in 2016.
“What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision…which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive,” the statement from Friends for Foxx said.
For his part, Smollett consistently maintains his innocence.
He said he has “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing.
The Osundairo brothers, who have been granted immunity from prosecution, are also sticking to their story – that Smollett hired them to stage a fake attack. They will be witnesses for the prosecution.
Regardless of whether Smollett was attacked by two men he knew but were in disguise, who attempted to make it look like a racist, homophobic Trump-inspired attack, or whether he simply staged a fake attack for fame and glory, it has not been a good year for Smollett.
He has become a notorious and much-ridiculed household name. People who had never heard of the actor or his TV show before the alleged attack now know of him and it seems most don’t believe his version of events.
Smollett has not had any film or television roles since his departure from the TV series was made public in April 2019. Producers have the option to bring him back during the sixth and final season of Empire but said they have no plans to do so.
It’s just as well perhaps.
Smollett will be busy defending himself. His defense is that two men he knew quite well dressed up as Trump supporters and tried to beat him up. He did not recognize them and thought they were white men. And somehow, the two men happened to get $3,500 from Smollett and left the country for an overseas trip later that same day.
Smollett may want to take this to trial to vindicate himself and establish he is telling the truth.
But should he want to settle this, his problem will be that Webb will not likely take any plea deal that does not come with Smollett admitting wrongdoing. That means if he takes a plea deal, he will have to admit he lied.
As it stands now, most of the world thinks he is a liar.
He is standing pat on his story. And a special prosecutor, aligned with Republicans, much different from the Democratic Cook County State Attorney who let him off, without admission of wrongdoing, is going to press this to the wall to get a result – which means he either lied or he didn’t.
This may not stop short of a trial.