The police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said prosecutors charged Smollett with felony disorderly conduct, an offense that could carry one to three years in prison and force the actor to pay for the cost of the investigation into his report of the beating. Authorities were trying to get in touch with Smollett’s attorneys to “negotiate a reasonable surrender”, Guglielmi said.
Lawyers for Smollett said they intended to conduct a thorough investigation and mount an aggressive defense. “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,” Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in a statement.
Smollett alleged two masked men abused him with racist and homophobic slurs before beating him up early on 29 January. Smollett, who is black and gay, said the men then looped a rope around his neck.
But since then details in the case have emerged that have cast doubt on his reported version of events.
Earlier on Wednesday, Guglielmi had announced investigators officially considered the actor a suspect in the case. “Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony),” he tweeted.
Guglielmi added that detectives and two brothers who were earlier deemed suspects in the attack were testifying before a grand jury.
Smollett’s attorneys met with prosecutors and police earlier Wednesday afternoon. It’s unknown what was discussed or whether the actor attended the meeting.
Smollett, who plays Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, had told police he was attacked while getting a sandwich around 2am near his home in downtown Chicago. He said the men shouted: “This is Maga country,” an apparent reference to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. Smollett also said the attackers poured some kind of chemical on him.
Whispers about Smollett’s potential role in the attack started with reports that he had not fully cooperated with police and word that detectives in a city full of surveillance cameras could not find video of the attack.
Police looked through hours of video surveillance from the area but found no footage of an attack.
Investigators did find and release images of two people they said they wanted to question. And last week, police picked up the two brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare airport as they returned from Nigeria and questioned them about the attack. They also searched the apartment where the men live.
The men, who had been held for nearly 48 hours on suspicion of assaulting Smollett, were released Friday. Guglielmi said the next day that information police received from the men “has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation”.
Earlier Wednesday, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television issued a statement saying Smollett “continues to be a consummate professional on set” and that his character was not being written off the show. The series is shot in Chicago and follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the record industry.
The studio’s statement followed reports that Smollett’s role was being slashed amid the police investigation.
On Tuesday, Chicago’s top prosecutor, the Cook county State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation.
“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said. She didn’t elaborate as to how Foxx was familiar with anyone in the case and she said Foxx would have no further comment.
Foxx’s first assistant, Joe Magats, will oversee the case, the office said.
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