Jussie Smollett sues Chicago, claims malicious prosecution over alleged beating

(Reuters) - Jussie Smollett has filed a lawsuit accusing Chicago of maliciously prosecuting him after concluding that the actor’s claim to having been the victim of a racist and homophobic beating on a city street was a hoax.

FILE PHOTO: Actor Jussie Smollett arrives at the Leighton Criminal Court Building in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Kamil Krzaczynski

Smollett, 37, best known for his work on the Fox television drama “Empire,” made his accusation in counterclaims filed on Wednesday, after Chicago sued him to recoup $130,106 in police overtime costs to investigate the beating claim.

He accused the city, police and others of causing “substantial economic damages as well as reputational harm, humiliation, mental anguish and extreme emotional distress,” and is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.

“The city stands by its original complaint and will continue to pursue this litigation,” Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for Chicago’s law department, said by email. “We fully expect to be successful in defeating these counterclaims.”

Smollett, who is black and gay, ignited a social media firestorm after telling police on Jan. 29 that two masked men had thrown a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him and shouted racial and homophobic slurs, while expressing support for U.S. President Donald Trump.

Illinois prosecutors charged Smollett on Feb. 20 with making up the attack, including by hiring two brothers to stage it, and falsely reporting a “high-profile hate crime” to draw publicity after becoming dissatisfied with his “Empire” salary.

But they dropped the criminal case on March 26, drawing anger from Chicago’s police department and then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who called it a “whitewash of justice.”

Smollett pleaded not guilty to lying about the attack, and has long said he was truthful about it.

Chicago nonetheless sought triple damages in its April 11 civil lawsuit to recoup overtime costs.

Smollett played singer-songwriter Jamal Lyon on “Empire” but was dropped from the show after the alleged attack.

The counterclaims were filed against Chicago, the brothers and a number of police officers and employees.

Smollett accused police of trying to prosecute him based on the brothers’ “false, self-serving and unreliable statements in order to close the investigation into the attack.”

He also said Chicago could not recover investigative costs because it already accepted his $10,000 “payment in full” in connection with the dismissal of the criminal case.

Without ruling on the merits, U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall on Oct. 22 refused to dismiss Chicago’s civil lawsuit against Smollett, saying his high profile and “the extreme nature of the accusations” could explain the overtime costs.

The case is Chicago v. Smollett, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, No. 19-04547.

Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Cynthia Osterman