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'Empire' Actor Jussie Smollett Arrested On Charges Of Filing False Police Report

Updated at 6:50 a.m. ET Thursday

Empire actor Jussie Smollett has been taken into custody on charges of disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about being attacked on the street, according to Chicago police.

In a tweet early Thursday, the chief communications officer for the Chicago Police Department, Anthony Guglielmi, said that Smollett "is under arrest and in custody of detectives." The actor and musician now faces felony criminal charges from the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, which has accused him of "Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report."

In a statement released Wednesday, Smollett's attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson vowed to "mount an aggressive defense."

"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.

The news of Smollett's arrest marks the latest development in a story of controversy and confusion since that began late last month.

Initially, Chicago police revealed that the actor, who is black and gay and portrays a gay character on Empire, had reported suffering a vicious assault while walking downtown in the early morning hours. According to the department, Smollett said two individuals shouted racist and homophobic slurs, physically attacked him and wrapped a rope around his neck before they fled.

The assault, which Chicago police vowed to investigate as a "possible hate crime," elicited outrage not only from Smollett's friends and colleagues but also from a number of politicians such as Democratic presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both of whom tweeted their support for Smollett after the allegations surfaced.

The unsettling story would not remain so straightforward as the investigation progressed, however.

Early in February authorities brought in two brothers, at least one of whom Smollett knows, questioning them first as persons of interest, then as "potential suspects" — only to release them without charge shortly afterward. According to police, "new evidence" that arose during their interrogations "had shifted" the investigation.

And they announced that they would need to again speak with Smollett.

All the while, as rumorsand reports beganto circulate that Smollett himselfhad a hand in orchestratingthe attack — rumors that police batted down earlier this month as having "no evidence" — the Empire star maintained his original account in comments to the media.

"At first, it was a thing of, like, 'Listen, if I tell the truth then that's it, because it's the truth,' " Smollett said of his reaction to the rumors, in an interview with Good Morning America. "Then it became a thing of like, 'Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you not believe that? It's the truth.' And then it became a thing of like, 'Oh, it's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth; you don't even want to see the truth.' "

Smollett's account came against the backdrop of the latest national data compiled on hate crimes in the U.S.

According to the FBI's "Hate Crime Statistics, 2017," releasedin mid-2018, there was a 17 percent increase in hate crimes since 2016.

In 2017, there were 7,175 bias crimes involving 8,493 victims. Nearly 60 percent of the victims were targeted because of their race or ethnicity; 20.6 percent were targeted owing to their religion; and 15.8 percent were targeted for their sexual orientation.

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Corrected: February 21, 2019 at 9:00 PM PST
A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the brothers who collaborated in the allegedly staged attack as Nigerian. In fact, they merely flew to Nigeria after the incident. They said in a statement that they are American citizens.
Colin Dwyer covers breaking news for NPR. He reports on a wide array of subjects — from politics in Latin America and the Middle East, to the latest developments in sports and scientific research.
Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.