A lawyer for Jussie Smollett has written a letter warning that if Chicago sues the TV star for the cost of the investigation into his claim that he was attacked, he will demand sworn evidence from mayor Rahm Emanuel, the police chief and others.
The city announced that it was drafting a lawsuit for about 130,000 dollars (£100,000), but celebrity defence lawyer Mark Geragos said Smollett will “not be intimidated” by what he called “threats that were made maliciously”.
The threatened lawsuit and stern response mark the latest chapter in a story that has taken a number of strange twists since Smollett first reported in January that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack by two masked men in central Chicago.
It is the clearest indication yet that — despite the prosecutors’ announcement last month that they were dropping the 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct against the actor — the saga is far from over.
The city, which still contends that Smollett concocted the story and paid two brothers to stage the attack, said the lawsuit will be filed “in the near future” if Smollett does not pay for the hours of work detectives spent chasing down leads, collecting surveillance video and talking to potential witnesses.
But Smollett just as adamantly denies the allegations and Mr Geragos’ letter doubles down on that denial, saying the claim that the Empire actor “filed a false police report and orchestrated his own attack is false and defamatory”.
Mr Geragos also said he will demand sworn depositions from the two brothers who told police Smollett paid them to stage the attack, as well as their lawyer and her husband. He said he will also demand all the paperwork from the investigation.
A legal battle could answer the question observers in the city and around the country have been asking for several days: Why did Cook County prosecutor Kim Foxx’s office, without explanation and without telling the police they were about to do so, dismiss the charges after securing a 16-count grand jury indictment and despite their contention that Smollett had orchestrated the attack?
A judge has sealed the court file at the request of Smollett’s lawyers, and has said he will announce next month his decision on whether to unseal the file at the request of several media organisations.
Given that the case was active for only a matter of weeks, the file is likely to be slim, but it could contain information such as texts between Smollett and the brothers that would reveal exactly why what started as a possible hate crime investigation against the black and openly gay actor turned into a criminal investigation of him.
It would also bring renewed attention to Ms Foxx, whose office dismissed the charges after she recused herself from the case because of communications between her and a relative of Smollett.
She has come under intense criticism for her handling of the case, as well as the investigation that led to sexual abuse charges against R&B star R Kelly.
This week more than two dozen suburban Chicago police chiefs joined the president of the Chicago police union in demanding that she resign.