(Above) Jussie Smollett leaves Cook County Department of Corrections on South California Avenue southwest of the Loop on February 21 after posting bail. Photo by Joshua Lott / Reuters.
10-Mar-19 Embattled TV star Jussie Smolletts legal problems have just become significantly more serious as a Cook County grand jury has returned a 16-count true bill of charges against him in connection with his alleged falsification of a hate crime in Streeterville in late January.
Smollett was charged with a single count of felony disorderly conduct/false report last month based on allegations brought by the Cook County States Attorneys Office.
CWB Chicago has learned, however, that a grand jury has returned a total of 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct/false report against the former star of Empire on Fox. The grand jurys true bill states that Smollett lied about the attack to two police officers the beat cop who took his initial report and a detective who conducted a follow-up interview the same day.
In one set of charges, the grand jury found that Smollett filed a false police report around 2 a.m. on January 29 in which he told an officer that he was attacked near 341 East Lower North Water Street by two unknown men who were dressed in black, one of whom wore a ski mask.
(Above) Area where the January 29 incident supposedly occurred, near the intersection of East North Water Street & North New Street in Streeterville. At above left is North Water Apartments. Lowes Chicago Hotel is next to it. According to a police report, Smollett says he was attacked on the red and gray pavers seen at lower left in this Google Street View.
The jury further found that Smollett told the original officer that the attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs and struck him in the face with their hands. The police report connected to these charges also indicate that Smollett claimed that a noose was placed around his neck and a chemical was poured on him.
The second set of charges returned by the grand jury involves Smolletts alleged false reporting of the incident to a police detective later the same day. Additional details that Smollett apparently included in the second interview include: the men approached him from behind, Smollett fought back, and all three men fell to the ground where Smollett said he was kicked in the back and felt someone pulling on his neck.
During this interview, Smollett told the officer that one offender was a white male wearing a black mask with an open area around the eyes that exposed the attackers skin, the grand jury found.
No charges for threatening letter
While announcing the initial charge against Smollett last month, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his department believed that Smollett was also responsible for mailing a threat letter to himself that set the stage for the purported hate crime. Nonetheless, no charges were brought by the grand jury against Smollett in connection with the letter.
The new charges against Smollett each carry a potential sentence of probation to four years if convicted. Realistically, though, Smollett is unlikely to be convicted on more than a fraction of the charges. Most Cook County criminal cases are resolved through plea bargains in which a defendant pleads guilty to one and, rarely, two counts of an indictment in return for a favorable sentence. Only by going to trial do most defendants run the real risk of being convicted of more than one or two counts.
National news outlets have been reporting since Smolletts arrest that he had already been indicted by a grand jury. As CWB Chicago has repeatedly reported, those outlets were incorrect. Shortly before Smolletts arrest, a grand jury was convened in a so-called John Doe case, a legal maneuver that is designed to lock in the testimony of key witnesses under oath to minimize the risk of that testimony changing later and to preserve the testimony should a witness go missing.
Smolletts attorneys are due back in court this week.