Chicago Sues Jussie Smollett, Seeking Payback for Police Investigation Into Attack Claim

CHICAGO — The city of Chicago sued the actor Jussie Smollett on Thursday, seeking more than $130,000 to cover the cost of a police investigation into his claim that he had been the victim of a hate crime attack.

The lawsuit accused Mr. Smollett, who has a prominent role on the show “Empire,” of orchestrating a fake assault in January and repeatedly lying to members of the Chicago Police Department as they investigated the case. City lawyers repeated many of the claims that had been made by prosecutors before criminal charges against the actor were abruptly dropped last month.

“Defendant made this report to the C.P.D. officers despite knowing that the purported attack was not for racist or homophobic motives” and “that his purported attackers were, in fact, his acquaintances,” said the lawsuit, which was filed in state court.

On Thursday evening, a spokeswoman for Mr. Smollett’s lawyers declined to comment on the city’s lawsuit, but the actor has insisted that he told the truth when he reported being attacked. And Mr. Smollett’s lawyer, Mark J. Geragos, previously rejected the city’s request to pay for the cost of the investigation and had brushed aside the threat of a lawsuit.

The lawsuit, which Chicago officials had threatened for days, signaled another escalation of the strange, bitter saga that followed Mr. Smollett’s initial report to the police. The new legal fight seemed aimed at arriving at some final, public answer to the question that had loomed over the case all along: Who was really telling the truth about what happened in the early morning hours of Jan. 29?

For weeks, detectives investigated a claim by Mr. Smollett, who is gay and black, that he had been confronted in the early morning hours by two men who placed a rope around his neck, poured a chemical on him and used the phrase “MAGA Country,” a reference to President Trump’s campaign slogan.

But after initial outpourings of outrage, including from Democratic presidential candidates and Mr. Trump, skepticism about Mr. Smollett’s account began to grow. Eventually, the Chicago police detained two brothers who knew Mr. Smollett and who said the actor had paid them to plan and carry out a fake hate crime.

Mr. Smollett was arrested and eventually indicted by a grand jury on 16 counts of disorderly conduct. But in another surprising turn, Cook County prosecutors dropped those charges last month. Mr. Smollett agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond payment. Prosecutors then took the unusual step of saying that their decision to drop the charges “didn’t exonerate him.”

Some Chicago leaders, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel, voiced outrage at the decision, calling it a “whitewash of justice.”

“Our officers did hard work, day in and day out, countless hours, working to unwind what actually happened that night,” Mr. Emanuel said last month. “The city saw its reputation dragged through the mud.”

In all, city officials said, more than two dozen officers worked a combined 1,836 overtime hours on the case, costing $130,106.15.

The city’s largest police union soon called for the elected prosecutor, Kim Foxx, to resign. All the while, explanations for the prosecution decision were shifting. At first, prosecutors said they were exercising discretion in part because Mr. Smollett’s crime was a relatively low-level felony. Later, Ms. Foxx, who had assigned the case to her deputy, said there were doubts about whether the evidence was strong enough for a conviction.

In a letter last week to a city lawyer, Mr. Geragos said Mr. Smollett had been wrongly accused of a crime and that the threats of a lawsuit “were made maliciously.” And if that lawsuit were filed, Mr. Geragos said, he would seek depositions with Mr. Emanuel and the police superintendent, Eddie Johnson.

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