A grand jury in Chicago indicted Empire actor Jussie Smollett on 16 felony counts on Friday for filing a false police report after allegedly staging a racist and homophobic hate crime against himself.
Smollett, who is black and openly gay, had originally claimed that two white men had approached him as he exited a Subway restaurant in late January and yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him. He said they then attacked him, poured bleach on him, and wrapped a rope around his neck. He later told detectives that one of the attackers had yelled, “This is MAGA country.”
The story soon came under scrutiny, and in February, police announced they were investigating whether Smollett had staged the attack. Two brothers, both black and aspiring actors who knew Smollett, were caught on surveillance video at the time of the attack. Police say the two men admitted Smollett had paid them to attack him.
It remains unclear why Smollett would have hatched such a bizarre plot, but authorities said last month they believed he may have been motivated in part by his dissatisfaction with his salary. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson also alleged that Smollett had sent an anonymous letter to the set of Empire filled with racist and homophobic threats against himself. On Feb. 20, police charged Smollett with one count of felony disorderly conduct for the allegedly false report. The executive producers of Empire then announced that Smollett would not appear in the final two episodes of the season.
Friday’s grand jury charges involve 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for making the false report, according to NBC News.
Smollett and his attorneys have denied the allegations against him.