Empire actor Jussie Smollett turns himself in to police to face charge of making false report
Smollett, 36, is accused of filing a false police report, claiming he was attacked
Empire actor Jussie Smollett has turned himself in to Chicago police to face a charge of making a false police report after saying he was attacked downtown by two men who hurled racist and anti-gay slurs, and looped a rope around his neck.
Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi released the news early Thursday morning.
Supt. Eddie Johnson plans to hold a morning news conference and Smollett is expected to appear in court later in the day.
Smollett, 36, was charged Wednesday with disorderly conduct — a Class 4 felony that carries a possible prison sentence of one to three years upon conviction, but could also be punishable by probation.
On Wednesday, authorities were trying to get in touch with Smollett's lawyers to "negotiate a reasonable surrender," Guglielmi said.
Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, said he was attacked by two masked men at around 2 a.m. local time on Jan. 29 as he was walking home from a Subway sandwich shop downtown.
The actor said the men beat him, made racist and homophobic comments and yelled, "This is MAGA country" — an apparent reference to U.S. President Donald Trump's campaign slogan "Make America Great Again" — before looping a rope around his neck and fleeing.
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."
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement Wednesday saying Smollett "continues to be a consummate professional on set" and his character isn't being written off the show. The statement followed reports that Smollett's role was being slashed amid the police investigation into the reported attack.
Brothers 'manned up,' attorney says
Investigators went through hundreds of hours of private and public surveillance video from the area where Smollett said he was attacked but couldn't find footage of the alleged beating.
They found and released images of two people they wanted to question. Last week, police picked up the two brothers at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria and questioned them about the attack. They also searched the men's apartment.
The men, who were identified to multiple media outlets by their lawyer as Abimbola (Abel) and Olabinjo (Ola) Osundairo, were held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett before being released Friday.
The day after they were released, 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. Smollett was charged by prosecutors, not the grand jury. The police spokesperson said the brothers appeared before the panel to "lock in their testimony."
A lawyer representing the brothers said her clients "manned up" and testified in front of a grand jury before prosecutors charged Smollett.
Without providing details, Gloria Schmidt told reporters the two men accepted money from Smollett and wanted to come clean. She said they weren't motivated by any promises from prosecutors.
"There was never a change of heart," Schmidt said. "There was a point where this story needed to be told, and they manned up and they said, `We're gonna correct this.' Plea deal, immunity, all of that — they don't' care about that."
Probation, restitution most likely, ex-prosecutor says
Former Cook County prosecutor Andrew Weisberg said judges rarely throw defendants in prison for making false reports, opting instead to place them on probation, particularly if there's no prior criminal record.
Smollett has a record, which 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 program.
Another prospective problem is the bill someone might receive after falsely reporting a crime that prompted a nearly month-long investigation, including 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 US, Weisberg said. In Smollett's case, "I can imagine that this would be easily into the hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Also Wednesday, Chicago's top prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, announced she had recused herself from the investigation.
Her office said 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.