Chicago Police Say Actor Jussie Smollett Is Now A Suspect For Filing False Report
ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
The investigation into what was initially believed to be an attack on actor and musician Jussie Smollett has taken another turn. When the incident was first reported late last month, police called it a possible racially charged assault and battery on the black, gay star of the TV show "Empire." But late today, Smollett was indicted by a grand jury for disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about the attack. Joining us now to talk about this is Miles Bryan of member station WBEZ. Hi, Miles.
MILES BRYAN, BYLINE: Hey.
SHAPIRO: Explain what happened today.
BRYAN: Well, a whole bunch. Jussie Smollett's case was put in front of a grand jury. A little bit earlier this evening, the Chicago Police Department for the first time came out and called him a suspect in this attack. And this is an attack he reported late last month, which he described as - essentially as a hate crime, saying that two men attacked him here in Chicago using racist and homophobic insults. And this evening, he has now been officially charged with a felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report.
SHAPIRO: So what do we know about what actually happened? Our understanding of this incident has taken so many turns.
BRYAN: Yeah, well, it started late last month when Smollett reported that two men assaulted him in downtown Chicago using racist and homophobic insults and also put a - allegedly put a rope around his neck and put some kind of chemical substance on him. That's when he claimed at least. The police were looking into it. Last week, they arrested two Nigerian brothers who were briefly considered suspects, but they were released late Friday night, and the police said that they were no longer suspects and that the investigation had taken a turn. They wouldn't say what that turn was for the last couple of days, though. They've been pretty mum. That's why tonight is so explosive. They're finally out and saying that simply they believe Smollett staged this attack.
SHAPIRO: And as we've said, this charge is a felony. What could the penalty be?
BRYAN: Yeah. It could be - this is a Class 4 felony in Illinois, so that could be one to three years in prison, although that's probation. And then there's various fines attached. And Smollett is expected per the Cook County state's attorney to appear at bond court tomorrow. And the Chicago Police Department said in a statement they're making every effort they can to bring him in to be arrested.
SHAPIRO: Have you heard anything today from Jussie Smollett or his legal team?
BRYAN: I just heard from his legal team that they'll have a statement sometime soon. I don't have that statement yet. The last substantial update we got from them was late Saturday night. They doubled down on his claim that Smollett was a victim of a hate crime and denied what he's now being charged for.
SHAPIRO: And of course there was such an outpouring of response to the initial reports of an attack. The TV show he's on, "Empire," is extremely popular. Has there been much reaction to this dramatic development today?
BRYAN: Yeah. I mean, this is just happening right now. So I think people are responding as it happens. Fox issued a statement earlier today calling Smollett a consummate professional. I think now that these charges have been filed, though, we have to wait and see how the entertainment community reacts and how other folks that have been standing behind him react.
SHAPIRO: That's Miles Bryan of NPR member station WBEZ in Chicago. Thank you so much.
BRYAN: Thank you.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In the audio of this story, the reporter incorrectly identifies the brothers who collaborated in the allegedly staged attack as Nigerian. In fact, they merely flew to Nigeria after the incident. They said in a statement that they are American citizens.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.