Prosecutors dropped all charges against “Empire” star Jussie Smollett and some officials are not happy with the decision.
CHICAGO – Prosecutors dropped all charges Tuesday against “Empire” star Jussie Smollett, just weeks after he was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report about being the victim of an alleged hate crime attack.
At a press conference later, outgoing Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters they were outraged at the decision. They continued to accuse Smollett of lying about being attacked as a means to raise his profile and TV salary.
“This is a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel declared. “It’s Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax. He’s still saying he’s innocent, still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare he? How dare he?
“It is wrong. Full stop,” Emanuel said. “From top to bottom, this is not on the level.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision “a whitewash of justice.” (March 26)
Backed and flanked by a row of uniformed senior police officers after a police academy graduation, neither the mayor nor the police chief could explain why prosecutors dropped the charges.
Johnson said prosecutors and Smollett are “hiding behind (court) secrecy to broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system,” and he continued to “stand behind my detectives.”
“At the end of the day, Mr. Smollett committed this hoax,” Johnson said. “Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology.”
Emanuel repeatedly reminded that Smollett had been indicted by a grand jury that saw only a portion of the evidence against him, and now that evidence will never be seen. He said the financial cost to the city was great and the ethical cost of the episode even greater.
He said Smollett had used hate-crime laws “to self-promote” his career, which means that future victims of such crimes may be ignored or not believed. He said he was offended that Smollett continues to profess his innocence.
“You have a person using hate-crime laws that are on the books to protect people who are minorities from violence, to then turn around and use those laws to advance your career?” Emanuel said. “Is there no decency in this man?”
The two men spoke after the state’s attorney’s office issued a statement earlier.
After all charges against him were dropped, Jussie Smollett told reporters, “I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s volunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” according to a statement from the office of the Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, sent to USA TODAY by her spokeswoman, Tandra Simonton.
Foxx had recused herself from the case (because she had contacts with the Smollett family) and assigned it to her first deputy, Joe Magats. He told the Chicago Sun-Times that dropping the charges does not mean Smollett was the victim of a crime.
“Absolutely not. We stand behind the CPD investigation done in this case, we stand behind the approval of charges in this case,” Magats told the paper. “They did a fantastic job. The fact there was an alternative disposition in this case is not and should not be viewed as some kind of admission there was something wrong with the case, or something wrong with the investigation that the Chicago Police did.”
Magats said Smollett was treated the same way as any non-famous defendant without a felony criminal background who is charged with a nonviolent crime. “If you start looking at the disposition in the case, in every case you need to look at the facts and circumstances of the case, and the defendant’s background,” Magats said.
Following a surprise hearing Tuesday morning, Smollett and his legal team addressed a crowd of reporters in a courthouse hallway.
“I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” Smollett said. “It’s been an incredibly difficult time. One of the worst of my entire life… Now I would like nothing more than to just to get back to work and get on with my life.”
Patricia Brown Holmes, one of his lawyers, said her message to Chicago police was simple: Don’t try their cases in the press. She said she doesn’t know why police and prosecutors charged Smollett.
“I have nothing to say to police except to investigate and don’t try their cases in the press,” Brown Holmes told reporters. “Don’t jump ahead and utilize the press and convict people before they’re tried in a court of law.”
Police had charged that Smollett paid two brothers $3,500 to carry out the attack in order to raise his profile and TV salary. But Brown Holmes said Smollett has long claimed the check was for nutritional supplements and training.
“That check was for exactly what Jussie said – they were his trainers,” Brown Holmes said.
Simonton did not offer an explanation of why prosecutors dropped the charges. She said the $10,000 bond money (10 percent of $100,000) that Smollett is forfeiting will be given to the city. One of the penalties for filing a false police report, if there is a conviction, includes paying for the police costs of investigating a false crime report.
Smollett’s legal team also issued a formal statement, stressing that the charges against him were dropped, and not because of a plea deal.
“Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him,” according to a statement from Smollett’s lawyers Tina Glandian and Brown Holmes. “… He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions,” the lawyers added, noting the case is a reminder of why “there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion.”
“Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends and career.”
Initial reaction ranged from shock to vindication. 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment, the studio behind “Empire,” said in a joint statement: “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”
Meanwhile, the show’s writers tweeted a photo of a CNN headline that read “Prosecutors drop all charges against actor Jussie Smollett” and wrote, “see y’all Wednesday. #empire #empirefox” along with a winking smiley face emoji.
The news comes after Smollett pleaded not guilty at his arraignment on March 14 on a 16-count indictment of lying to police. He has denied the charges.
Smollett, 36, told Chicago police that he was attacked in the middle of the night on Jan. 29, claiming that two masked men shouted homophobic and racist abuse at him, beat his face, threw bleach on him, hung a noose around his neck and yelled, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
Local shock, a nationwide outcry, and an urgent Chicago police investigation ensued.
While messages of support for Smollett from his famous friends, from presidential candidates and total strangers poured in over social media, police busied themselves watching hours of surveillance video and searching for two murky figures Smollett said were the attackers.
On Feb. 20, after a flurry of conflicting leaks from the Chicago Police Department about the status of the investigation, Smollett was charged by police with one Class 4 felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report about the alleged attack.
He turned himself in early the next day, was arrested and briefly jailed, before being released after paying 10 percent of a $100,000 bond.
Chicago Police Superintendent Johnson said Smollett paid bodybuilder brothers Ola Osundairo, 27, and Abel Osundairo, 25, $3,500 to stage an attack on him in order to raise his profile and his TV salary.
On the day authorities announced charges, Johnson accused the actor of smearing Chicago’s reputation and trying to “take advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.”
“I am left hanging my head asking ‘why?’ Why would anyone – especially an African-American man – use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations,” Johnson told reporters at a press conference. “Bogus police reports cause real harm… I’m offended by what happened and I am also angry.”
The episode marks another difficult moment for the Chicago Police Department, which has for decades faced criticism for unconstitutional policing in the city’s sizable African-American community.
A federal judge in January approved an agreement, known as a consent decree, between the State of Illinois and City of Chicago that will require the Chicago police to undertake dozens of reforms. The department has spent more than $700 million since 2010 on settlements and legal fees related to lawsuits alleging police brutality.
Meanwhile, there is still one case open involving Smollett. Before he reported the attack, Smollett said he got a letter that threatened him at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot. Chicago police asserted that Smollett sent himself the letter. The FBI is investigating the letter but has declined to comment on their investigation.
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