Empire star Jussie Smollettâs lawyer has slammed the 16 new charges against the actor as âprosecutorial overkillâ and an attempt by the Chicago police to cover up their own misdeeds.
Mark Geragos, who has previously acted for controversial singer Chris Brown, said the charges were “desperate attempt to make headlines”.
Investigators allege Smollett staged a racist, anti-gay attack on himself with two men’s help and made a false police report.
On Friday, Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct by a Cook County grand jury, with each charge potentially carrying up to four years in prison. Sources at ABC Eyewitness News have suggested the disgraced Empire star will likely avoid jail time with a plea deal, despite his initial “not guilty” plea after turning himself in.
“The fact of an indictment was not unexpected,” Geragos told TMZ. “We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination. What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie.” He continued, “This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie’s privacy in tampering with his medical records. Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”
Geragos was referring to the records at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where Smollett was treated following the attack, and where dozens of employees were let go for allegedly accessing his medical records without permission.
TMZ reports that Smollett was “getting hit up nonstop for movies, TV gigs, commercials . . interviews and appearances” after the alleged attack, but is now “being treated like a pariah” by the industry.
Police allege Smollett, who is black and gay, claimed two masked men hurled slurs and looped a rope around his neck on January 29 in downtown Chicago.
ABC News in America reports there are two new sets of charges.
The first relate to what Smollett told officers about the alleged attack involving two Nigerian brothers who were allegedly paid $US3,500 to attack him.
Smollett first told police the alleged attackers yelled “MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make American Great Again” slogan.
The next set of charges are linked to a second police interview Smollett had about the alleged attack.
The new charges each carry a possible sentence of probation to four years.
Smollett was charged last month with felony disorderly conduct for the allegedly false report he made with Chicago police. The disgraced actor handed himself into police.
He has already pleaded not guilty to the first disorderly conduct charge.
He surrendered his passport and was taken into custody and later paid $US100,000 to get bail.
The two alleged attackers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, were arrested on February 13 but later released without charge.
Police have said they are no longer considered suspects.
The new charges against Smollett come as Chicago police said they are conducting an internal investigation to determine the source of information leaked anonymously to media during the probe into Smollett’s claims he was attacked.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says the investigation began after Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct last month.
Guglielmi said no alleged leakers have been identified so far. He says no officers or staff members with the department have been disciplined for releasing information about the case.