Jussie Smollett was charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly making false reports
In a statement released to PEOPLE, Smollett’s attorney, Mark Geragos, said that the “redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines” and accused law enforcement of “robbing” Smollett of his presumed innocence.
“The fact of an indictment was not unexpected. We knew that there is no way they would expose their evidence to a public airing and subject their witnesses to cross-examination,” Geragos said. “What is unexpected, however, is the prosecutorial overkill in charging 16 separate counts against Jussie.”
“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,” Geragos said, adding, “Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption.”
Smollett, who was charged on Feb. 20 with disorderly conduct, “knew that at the time … there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed,” according to the indictment obtained by CBS Chicago.
A representative for the Cook County State’s Attorney did not immediately return PEOPLE’s request for comment.
Smollett and his legal team previously said they are gearing up to launch an “aggressive defense,” according to his attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson.
“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,” Pugh and Henderson said in a statement given to PEOPLE on Wednesday. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
In the initial report about the alleged Jan. 29 attack, the openly gay black actor claimed to police that he’d been physically attacked on the street in his downtown Chicago neighborhood around 2 a.m. local time on Jan. 29 by two black-clad, masked men, later identified as brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, who hurled racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with an “unknown chemical substance” and left him with a rope around his neck.
Smollett, who was given the presumption of being a victim until the latter stages of the investigation, was the third person arrested in the case.
Abel and Ola — who were seen on surveillance footage the night of the incident and later questioned by police — were arrested and questioned by police last week but were released after telling police about the alleged hoax.
Authorities allege Smollett of paying the men $3,500 to stage a “bogus” hate crime attack against him to draw attention to himself because the actor was dissatisfied with his salary.
After posting bond and being released from jail last month, Smollett returned to the Chicago set of Empire, the Fox drama in which he stars as main character Jamal Lyon.
At the February hearing, text messages between Smollett and the Osundairo brothers detailed how the 45-second attack was to be allegedly orchestrated were read in court.
If Smollett is found guilty, falsifying a police report is a Class 4 felony which carries a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.
Fox did not immediately respond to PEOPLE’s requests for comment.
Smollett is scheduled to be arraigned on March 14.