Days after a Cook County grand jury handed down a 16-count indictment against Jussie Smollett, his lawyer is calling the charges "vindictive" and says his client maintains his innocence.
In a statement obtained by CBS, Smollett's attorney Mark Geragos says he didn't expect the grand jury to charge Smollet with 16 separate felony counts and the indictment is "prosecutorial overkill."
Geragos says the 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 information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie's privacy."
Smollett is charged with disorderly conduct for falsifying a police report from an alleged attack on him that took place in Chicago back in January. Smollett told authorities that he was attacked while walking home from a local Subway, and the alleged attackers called him racial and homophobic slurs, repeatedly hit him, poured some type of chemical substance on him and wrapped a noose around his neck. Chicago police claim that Smollett staged the attack and recruited two brothers —who were extras on the set of "Empire"— to participate. Last week, Chicago PD launched an internal investigation into the alleged leaks to the media during the investigation of the attack.
TMZ reports that Smollett's star was on the rise prior to the attack, but once initial reports about the attack surfaced, he began receiving nonstop appearance, commercials, television and film offers.
However, once reports became to surface about Smollett allegedly lying about the attack, the offers stopped coming in. Also, Smollett's character on "Empire" was removed from the final two episodes of season 5 to prevent further "disruption" on set. Reportedly his co-stars are divided on whether they should support Smollett or not.