March 8, 2019 / 2:03 PM / 7 months ago

Chicago police investigating leaks in 'Empire' actor case

FILE PHOTO: Jussie Smollett exits Cook County Department of Corrections after posting bail in Chicago, Illinois, U.S., February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

(Reuters) - The Chicago Police Department has started an internal investigation into how information about an alleged hate crime attack against actor Jussie Smollett was anonymously leaked to journalists, police officials said.

Smollett, 36, a black, openly gay actor on the hip-hop TV drama “Empire,” was charged with lying to police last month after he said he was attacked in January by two masked men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs. Detectives investigated the incident as a hate crime but local news outlets cited police sources saying it was believed to be a hoax.

“I would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation,” Police Sergeant Rocco Alioto said in a statement on Thursday.

He said an internal investigation had begun as part of standard procedure for allegations of information leaks.

Smollett ignited a media firestorm by telling police two apparent supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump had struck him, put a noose round his neck and poured bleach over him during an assault outside his apartment on Jan. 29.

The actor was arrested on Feb. 21 and charged with filing a false police report after detectives said he staged the hoax hate crime attack to boost his fame because he was unhappy with his salary on the show. He was later released on bail.

The makers of “Empire,” 20th Century Fox Television, cut Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, from the final two episodes of the current season after his arrest, saying it wanted to avoid “further disruption” on its production set.

Smollett, who pleaded not guilty, faces up to three years in prison if convicted. His next court hearing is scheduled for March 14.

A representative and lawyers for Smollett did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York; Editing by Bill Trott

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