Nearly a year after he was charged with lying to police about orchestrating an attack on himself, actor Jussie Smollett is again facing charges in Cook County court.
A grand jury returned a six-count indictment against Smollett following a reinvestigation of the case by special prosecutor Dan Webb – who was appointed after the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office abruptly dropped 16 criminal charges against the “Empire” star last March.
“Based on the recommendation of the OSP (Office of the Special Prosecutor), a Cook County grand jury returned a six-count indictment charging Jussie Smollett with making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers related to his false claims that he was the victim of a hate crime, knowing that he was not the victim of a crime,” Webb’s office said in a statement Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx referred questions to Webb’s office.
Smollett claimed to police he’d been attacked near his Streeterville apartment in the early hours of Jan. 29, 2019 by two men who yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him. But after investigating that allegation over the course of weeks, Chicago police detectives determined Smollett had orchestrated the incident himself.
They believe Smollett paid two brothers – Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo – $3,500 to stage the “attack” in an effort to help boost his public profile. Smollett was initially charged with disorderly conduct on Feb. 20, 2019, but just a month later, Cook County prosecutors quickly dismissed all charges against him.
That decision has led to an ongoing wave of backlash against Foxx, who said she recused herself from the case, but then appointed her top assistant to take over in her stead. That led to a challenge by former appellate Judge Sheila O’Brien, who argued that a judge should have instead appointed a special prosecutor following Foxx’s recusal.
Judge Michael Toomin agreed, and appointed Webb to the case in August. Webb, a veteran litigator who has served as special prosecutor five times previously, was tasked with reinvestigating the Smollett incident as well as any potential wrongdoing within Foxx’s office relating to the case.
Foxx faces an upcoming primary election against three Democratic challengers, and the Smollett case has remained a key issue throughout the race. Her campaign issued a statement calling into question the “James Comey-like timing of the charging decision,” just weeks before the election, saying that move “can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive.”
Smollett’s attorney Tina Glandian claimed the new indictment raises “serious questions” about the integrity of Webb’s investigation, in part, because the same detectives from the initial case were used to conduct the second investigation.
“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,” Glandian said in a statement.
“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.”
Why new charges were filed
In announcing the latest charges, the special prosecutor took issue with how the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) dismissed the initial charges last year.
Despite their conclusion that there was “strong” evidence against Smollett, Foxx’s First Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Joseph Magats opted to drop the charges in exchange for Smollett completing community service and forfeiting the $10,000 bond payment he made.
“The CCSAO decision-makers overseeing the Smollett resolution decision have not identified any new evidence they learned of between the time of the indictment and dismissal of the indictment that changed their view that the evidence against Mr. Smollett was strong,” Webb’s office said.
The special prosecutor also criticized Foxx’s office for failing to turn over any evidence showing that Smollett’s disposition was in line with previous cases the state’s attorney had handled. Webb’s team called this a “major factor” in its decision to file new charges.
“This issue was important to the OSP because on the day the Smollett case was resolved in court … the CCSAO issued a written press release in which it told the public that the Smollett case was being resolved under the same criteria that would be available for any defendant with similar circumstances,” the special prosecutor said in a statement.
“As a result, the OSP sought to obtain all documentary evidence within the CCSAO that would identify prior similar case files that were relied on by the CCSAO that would support this public statement. The CCASO was unable to provide this documentary evidence.”
Despite that, Webb’s team “reached no conclusions” in determining whether anyone inside or out of Foxx’s office engaged in any wrongdoing related to the case. That aspect of the investigation remains ongoing and any findings will be included in a final written report.
Following the dismissal last year, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit against Smollett seeking to recoup the $130,000 it said the Chicago Police Department spent on overtime costs investigating the actor’s claims. Smollett has since filed his own countersuit against the city, claiming he was the victim of a malicious prosecution.
“We look forward to reviewing the indictment and, as we have said previously, the City stands by our original complaint seeking to recover costs for Mr. Smollett’s false statements,” a spokeswoman with the city’s Law Department said in a statement. “We again thank the Chicago Police Department detectives for their hard work on the original investigation.”
Smollett will voluntarily appear for his arraignment in Cook County court on Feb. 24.
Below, a timeline of events in the Jussie Smollett case: