Early on Jan. 29, 2019, the “Empire” actor called police and reported he was jumped by two men as he walked along a dark street near his Chicago home.
The suspects, he said, were white and used racial and homophobic slurs, making the incident appear to be a hate crime.
Police investigators later accused Smollett of staging the incident — saying he hired his attackers and concocted the story as a way to boost his public profile and advance his acting career.
Smollett, now 37, was subsequently indicted on 16 felony counts related to filing a false police report, but five weeks later, in March 2019, prosecutors dropped all the charges.
The action prompted swift condemnation from the city’s mayor and police chief who said the actor was escaping accountability because of his fame.
But in a statement, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutors’ office said the charges were dismissed “after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case.” Tandra Simonton called it “a just disposition and appropriate resolution,” but added it was not an exoneration, according to reports.
The city’s police department later filed a lawsuit against Smollett, seeking to recover more than $130,000 to cover the cost of the investigation.
The attackers, police said, turned out to be two of Smollett’s acquaintances who had previously served as extras on “Empire” and as Smollett’s personal trainers.
Police also accused Smollett of mailing a threatening letter to himself at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is filmed.
Smollett has maintained his innocence.
“I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he said at the time.
Once the charges were dropped, the actor seemed to be off the hook after agreeing to perform community service and also letting the city keep his $10,000 in bail.
But the new charges were filed Tuesday by special prosecutor Webb.
Webb, a former U.S. attorney in Chicago, was appointed by Judge Michael Toomin last August to review the evidence against Smollett with the possibility of filing new charges, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. Webb was also tasked with investigating how the case was handled by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her staff, according to the Sun-Times.
Smollett’s case has become an issue in Foxx's bid for a second term, the AP reports.
Those looking to unseat the first black woman to hold the county’s highest law enforcement position have blasted her handling of the matter as haphazard and indecisive. They say it indicates she has bad judgment and favors the rich and powerful in deciding who will be prosecuted.
Foxx's campaign committee issued a biting statement Tuesday referring to former FBI Director James Comey's decision to briefly reopen an investigation into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton's email shortly before the presidential election in 2016 that Donald Trump would win.
"What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision"…which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive," the statement from Friends for Foxx said.
Meanwhile, reports said investigators traveled as far as California to question witnesses who know Smollett.
The new charges were sure to reignite many of the tensions that surrounded Smollett a year ago. When his claims first emerged, he drew a groundswell of support from fans and celebrities and gave an emotional television interview about the attack.
The case came to reflect the polarized state of political discourse in America. Many Democrats initially called it a shocking instance of Trump-era racism and hate, while Republicans depicted it as yet another example of liberals rushing to judgment and disparaging the president's supporters as bigots.
Tina Glandian, Smollett’s attorney, questioned Webb’s decision to file new charges, according to reporting by the AP.
The indictment “raises serious questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to the renewed charges” Glandian said, citing the use of the same detectives who were part of the original investigation into the attack to conduct the latest probe.
In his news release, Webb said he concluded that prosecuting Smollett was “in the interest of justice” for a number of reasons, including the extensive details of Smollett's false account as well as the resources that the police department threw at the investigation, the AP reported.
Fox 32 News in Chicago was the first to report the latest charges Tuesday.
Smollett is due in court Feb. 24. He no longer has a role on the TV show.
It was not immediately clear what sentence Smollett faces if convicted.
— Information from The Associated Press was used to supplement this report. This is a developing story. Please return to AJC.com for updates.