A grand jury has indicted actor Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts after he was accused of faking a hate crime attack.
Smollett claimed in January that he was the victim of a homophobic and racist attack, but Chicago police have accused him of perpetrating the attack on himself.
A grand jury in Cook County, Chicago indicted the Empire actor with 16 counts of disorderly conduct on Friday (March 8) for filing false police reports.
The counts relate to interviews Smollett gave to two police officers after the incident on January 29.
Jussie Smollett lawyers say 16-count indictment is ‘overkill’
Smollett continues to maintain his innocence.
In a statement, his lawyer Mark Geragos said that filing 16 separate counts over the incident, which could lead to prison time if convicted, was “prosecutorial overkill.”
The statement also noted that Chicago police this week opened an internal leak probe relating to the leaking of “inaccurate” information about the case.
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.
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“Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”
Police open leak inquiry into Jussie Smollett case
Chicago Police Department confirmed on Thursday (March 7) that the department was looking into leaks related to the case.
Sergeant Rocco Alioto told CNN: “I would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation.
“As a standard procedure when there are allegations of information being leaked, an internal investigation has been opened and we are also looking at our vulnerabilities.”
Smollett has consistently denied any involvement in orchestrating the attack against himself.
The actor, who is currently on bail, was suspended from Empire in February over the case, with his character written out of the last two episodes of the show’s current season..
Empire‘s producers said in a statement: “The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us.
“Jussie has been an important member of our ‘Empire’ family for the past five years and we care about him deeply.
“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out.”