‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett hit with 16 count felony indictment by grand jury

10

Chicago Police Department(CHICAGO) -- An Illinois grand jury has indicted "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, according to the Cook County State Attorney's Office.

Several hours after the grand jury indictments were announced late Friday, Smollett's attorney issued a new statement, "adamantly" maintaining the actor's innocence and accusing law enforcement of leaking details of the probe.

Yet proving Smollett's innocence will be a tall order for celebrity attorney Mark Geragos, as the Chicago Police Department that investigated the alleged attack continues to publicly describes Smollett's alleged actions as "shameful, [and] if proven, an affront to the people of Chicago."

The grand jury returned two separate sets of charges, Robert Foley, a senior advisor in the state attorney's office told ABC News.

The first set is related to what Smollett told officers about the alleged attack, including that the attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs, struck him with their hands, put a noose around his neck, and poured some sort of chemical substance on him.

The second set of charges are related to the second interview Smollett had with police about the alleged attack later that day.

In a statement released on Twitter Friday evening, Chicago Police Department (CPD) spokesman Anthony Guglielmi referred calls to prosecutors about the grand jury indictments.

“As Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson stated, allegations against Mr. Smollett are shameful & if proven, they are an affront to the people of Chicago who embraced him as a neighbor & respected him as a role model. We stand behind the work of detectives…”

Geragos, a Los Angeles-based criminal defense lawyer whose clients have included Chris Brown, Michael Jackson and Winona Ryder, is taking an aggressive approach to Smollett's defense -- calling the 16-count indictment "prosecutorial overkill" and a "desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal [CPD] investigation launched to investigate the ... leaking of false information" about the Smollett probe.

Geragos also launched a broadside at employees of the hospital where Smollett was treated after the alleged incident for the "shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie's privacy in tampering with his medical records."

Earlier this week, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that the CPD had begun such an internal investigation into the leaks.

Meanwhile, dozens of employees at Northwestern Hospital where Smollett was treated after the alleged incident have been fired for improperly accessing the actor's medical records, according to CBS Chicago affiliate WBBM.

Smollett already pleaded not guilty to the first disorderly conduct charge. He was ordered to surrender his passport and taken into custody, after which he posted $100,000 bond to be freed.

Smollett told police he was attacked by two masked men near his apartment in Chicago at around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29. The two men, Smollett initially said, shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him as a rope was wrapped around his neck and an unknown chemical substance was poured on him. The alleged assailants yelled "MAGA country," a reference to President Donald Trump's "Make American Great Again" slogan, Smollett told police.

Police identified and questioned two "persons of interest" captured on surveillance video near the scene around the time of the alleged attack. The men, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, were arrested on Feb. 13 but then released without charges, with police saying they were no longer considered suspects.

While being questioned by investigators, the brothers claimed that Smollett paid them $3,500 to help orchestrate and stage the crime after he became upset that a threatening letter addressed to him and delivered on Jan. 22 to the Fox studio where "Empire" is filmed did not get enough attention, law enforcement sources told ABC News.

Smollett, who has consistently denied any role in staging the supposed crime, turned himself in last month.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.