TMZ reports this evening that a Cook County Grand Jury has just handed down an indictment against actor and musician Jussie Smollett, formally accusing him of filing a false police report. The felony charge—stemming from a January 29 incident in which Smollett said he was attacked outside a Chicago restaurant, and which police have now officially accused him of staging himself—could carry as many as three years of prison time. “Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest,” a spokesperson for the Chicago Police Department said on social media tonight.
Police were officially treating Smollett—who co-stars on Fox’s Empire—as a victim in the case; that thinking reportedly shifted late last week, after CPD brought in two men for questioning who allegedly had knowledge of the attack. Reporters investigating the case claim to have found footage of the two men—brothers that Smollett reportedly knew personally—buying implements used in the incident.
Smollett issued a statement through his legal team on Saturday, denying that he had had anything to do with the planning of the attack:
As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.
Fox, meanwhile, issued its own statement earlier today, doubling down on its support for Smollett, who the network called a “consummate professional”. It also reiterated previous statements noting that there are not, and have not been, plans to write his character off of Empire, presumably in response to industry reports suggesting that the show was hesitant to shoot with Smollett while the investigation surrounding him was still pending.
Update: Deadline reports that Smollett’s attorneys have now issued a new statement on his behalf, highlighting the presumption of innocence, and the ways the public perception of the case has been affected by the leaking of information from unnamed sources reportedly connected to the CPD:
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.