Actor Jussie Smollett appeared in a Chicago courtroom Monday, February 24, to plead not guilty to six new charges related to his alleged staging of a racist and homophobic attack hate crime on himself. The new charges were filed a year after a 2019 incident, after the charges in the initial case had been dropped led to severe criticism of former Chicago Police Commissioner Eddy T. Johnson’s public statements regarding the case against the actor as well as the Cook County Illinois State’s attorney Kim Foxx, who had recused herself from the case.
The “Empire” star was previously indicted by Cook County prosecutors in February 2019 after law enforcement authorities alleged he had conspired with two black friends to stage the attack because he was dissatisfied with his salary from the Fox series and wanted to generate publicity to boost his career. In March, the charges against him were dropped, with little explanation from prosecutors – though at the time, presiding Judge Michael Toomin suggested that he could be charged again.
The city of Chicago subsequently sued the actor for more than $130,000 in reimbursement for overtime pay given to investigating officers working on his report. Smollett paid the city $10,000 in bail, which he then forfeited “as payment in full in connection with the dismissal of the charges against him,” according to his attorneys.
The second indictment comes from special prosecutor Dan Webb, who was appointed to the case by Toomin after the initial charges were dropped. In a statement, Webb said that Smollett is charged with six felony counts of disorderly conduct, connected to four separate false reports that he gave to police in which he claimed to be a victim of a hate crime “knowing that he was not the victim of a crime.”
The openly gay, black actor was originally charged with disorderly conduct after evidence emerged he had paid two acquaintances $3500 to help him stage an attack he reported to police on January 29, 2019. Smollett claimed he had been walking home when he was approached by two masked men making racist and homophobic insults, who beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He also claimed that at least one of his attackers was white, and that they had told him he was in “MAGA country.”
Webb did not disclose what sentence the actor might face if convicted of the renewed charges. At the time of the original 16-count felony indictment, it was reported that he could be placed on probation or sent to prison for one to three years per count.
The new indictment, which is certain to revive controversy in the public sphere over the divisive case, was criticized by Smollett’s attorney, Tina Glandian, who says it “raises serious questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to the renewed charges.” She cited the use of detectives who were part of the original investigation to conduct the latest probe, despite her client’s pending civil claims against the city and police officers for malicious prosecution.
Glandian also suggested a political motive for renewing the case “on the eve of the Cook County State’s Attorney election,” saying it shows the re-prosecution “is clearly all about politics, not justice.”