Jussie Smollett indicted on 16 felony counts

(Gray News) - Jussie Smollett was indicted by a grand jury on 16 felony counts for allegedly staging a hate crime attack against himself, according to local Chicago media.

The specific felony counts are on "false report of offense" charges, according to WBBM.

Smollett reported to Chicago police in January that he had been attacked while out getting food one night by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs at him, including saying "This is MAGA country," an allusion to President
Donald Trump's campaign slogan.

Police allege that Smollett in fact paid two men to stage the attack against him, which included leaving a rope around his neck as a noose.

He was originally arrested and charged with filing a false police report on Feb. 20.

"Like any other citizen, Mr. 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. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense," Smollett's attorneys said last month.

Following his arrest, the producers of the TV show "Empire" said that Smollett's character will be removed from the final two episodes of this season "to avoid further disruption on set."

"While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of 'Jamal' from the final two episodes of the season," ''Empire" executive producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer said in a written statement.

"Empire" is filmed in Chicago.

Smollett has been active in LBGTQ issues, and initial reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media, including from Sen. Kamala Harris of California and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.

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 they have no prior criminal record.

Smollett has a record though -- one that 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 license. He later pleaded no contest to a reduced charge and took an alcohol education and treatment program.

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