Charges dropped against Jussie Smollett, who says he has 'been truthful and consistent'
Prosecutors in Cook County, Ill., dropped charges against Jussie Smollett on Tuesday, citing community service performed by the actor since his arrest and his agreement to forfeit his bond to the city of Chicago.
A grand jury had indicted the "Empire" actor earlier this month on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to Chicago police about a hate-crime attack.
The result sent shock waves throughout Chicago, where Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, D, issued a condemnation of the prosecutor's decision, appearing blindsided by the news. "We found out about when you all did," Johnson told reporters.
"This is, without a doubt, a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you're in a position of influence and power, you'll get treated one way, other people will be treated another way," Emanuel said. "There is no accountability. It is wrong, full stop."
Joe Magats, the first assistant state's attorney in Cook County, said in an interview that his office's decision "should not be considered by anyone as a statement, a signal, a hint, anything, that the case is weak or the case fell apart."
"We stand by the [Chicago Police Department] investigation," Magats said. "They did an outstanding job, and we stand by the decision to charge Mr. Smollett."
Smollett and his attorney said they were pleased with the outcome. "I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One," Smollett told reporters at a Chicago courthouse. "I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life."
Magats said Tuesday's outcome is the result of an alternative to prosecution allowable under Illinois statute. About 5,700 out of 60,000 cases have been referred to "some kind of deferred prosecution, or alternative prosecution," Magats said.
The office took into account Smollett's lack of a violent criminal background and the "facts and circumstances of the case." Smollett had been charged with Class 4 felonies, the lowest classification.
Meanwhile, Smollett's attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, offered a different characterization, telling reporters inside the courthouse Tuesday that the actor "voluntarily" forfeited his bond and that there was no deal made with prosecutors. "There is no deferred prosecution," she said.
"We have nothing to say to the police department except to investigate charges and not try their cases in the press," she said. "Allow matters to be investigated, allow the state to investigate and to bring charges and not to jump and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law."
Johnson, the police superintendent, said Smollett and his attorneys "chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system." Emanuel said the $10,000 Smollett paid to be released on $100,000 bond "doesn't even come close" to the resources the city and police department used over the course of the investigation.
Smollett's case, which began in January when the actor said he had been attacked by two men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs, captivated the nation's attention as the investigation took several bizarre turns.
Smollett was first charged in February with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. The actor, who is black and gay, told police in January that he had been attacked around 2 a.m. in Chicago's Streeterville neighborhood by two people who yelled racist and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an unidentified chemical substance on him. The actor said at least one of his attackers had invoked President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan, yelling "This is MAGA country!" during the attack.
Smollett's allegations drew widespread media attention, and the actor received messages of support from celebrities, including several of his "Empire" colleagues, and advocacy organizations. In mid-February, the actor appeared on "Good Morning America," telling Robin Roberts that he would "never be the man that this did not happen to."
Days later, police announced that the trajectory of the investigation had changed. On Feb. 20, Smollett was named a suspect in the case, and he was arrested the following morning. At a subsequent media briefing, police said Smollett had fabricated the story of a brutal hate crime because he was dissatisfied with his salary on the Fox drama.
The charges against Smollett heightened tensions in Chicago, where Johnson issued a public rebuke of the actor, saying Smollett "took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career." Residents also voiced frustrations with the police department, criticizing how it had poured resources into investigating Smollett's claims in a city of high homicide rates.
Some remained skeptical of the findings presented by the department, which already had a fragile relationship with the black community in the city. As recent as 2017, federal investigators concluded that police had routinely violated the constitutional rights of Chicago's residents, particularly those of color.
Smollett has been adamant in denying wrongdoing, with his attorneys accusing investigators of presenting an "organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system."
Smollett's arrest reportedly caused tension on the Chicago set of "Empire," which recently resumed its fifth season on Fox. The drama's executive producers said in a statement last month that the actor's character, R&B singer Jamal Lyon, would be removed from this season's final two episodes "to avoid further disruption on set."
In a statement Tuesday, Twentieth Century Fox said "Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed."
The Washington Post's Deanna Paul contributed to this report.
This article was written by Bethonie Butler and Elahe Izadi, reporters for The Washington Post.