Cook County prosecutors have dropped all charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett involving allegations he paid two men to stage a hate crime against him.
Prosecutors didn’t elaborate on the dropped charges, other than to say their decision came after a review of the facts involved in the case, and after Smollett agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond payment.
"We didn’t exonerate him,” First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told the New York Times on Tuesday. "The mere fact that it was disposed of in an alternative manner does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities in the case or the evidence.”
Magats’ explanation contradicted comments made earlier by Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, who denied reports that the charges were dropped due to any deal with prosecutors.
Smollett touted his own innocence during a brief press conference at the Cook County Courthouse in Chicago.
“I have been truthful and consistent since day one,” Smollett told reporters. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of.”
Smollett had faced 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly paying two men to fake an attack against him near his Chicago home in January. Smollett pleaded not guilty to the charges March 14, and told police he was taunted and attacked by two men who were supporters of President Donald Trump who tied a noose around his neck. Prosecutors had contended that Smollett orchestrated and helped rehearse the fake attack, and then misled the public about the incident.
Here’s what happened after the announcement of the dropped charges:
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel blasted Smollett in a press conference, telling reporters it was “unbelievable” for the Empire actor to continue to profess his innocence.
“Mr. Smollett is still saying he is innocent and still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare him? How dare him?” an angry Emanuel said. “This is a person now who has been let off scot-free, with no sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions … Is there no decency in this man?”
Emanuel railed against Smollett for taking advantage of laws intended to protect minorities, telling reporters the false attack the actor was accused of perpetrating would hurt future victims of hate crime.
“He used the laws of the hate crime association that all of us through the years have put on the books to stand up to be the values that embody what we believe in,” Emanuel said. “This is a whitewash of justice. A grand jury could not have been clearer.”
20th Century Fox Television said in a statement it was “gratified” prosecutors dismissed Smollett’s case, but didn’t elaborate on what it meant for the Empire star’s future.
"Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified on his behalf that all charges against him have been dismissed,” 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement.
Fox removed Smollett from the final two episodes of Season 5 of Empire in February. Following his press conference Tuesday, Smollett didn’t respond when a fan asked if he thought he should be welcomed back onto the show.
Former Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey, now a CNN contributor, suggested Smollett got preferential treatment from prosecutors due to his status as a Hollywood actor.
“This whole thing, it just stinks,” Ramsey said on CNN Newsroom. “If this were Joe Shmoe, just a guy living in Englewood in Chicago, his butt would probably be in jail right now.”
“This is just not right,” Ramsey added.
Ramsey, a Chicago native who also previously worked for that city’s police force, also said he thought it was wrong for prosecutors to seal their decision-making from the public.
“If a prosecutor is going to make a decision, then they need to stand behind that decision and stand by why they made it,” Ramsey said. “If the evidence changed, fine, what was the new evidence? Let’s bring it on and let’s talk about this openly.”
First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, who reportedly made the decision to drop the charges against Smollett, told the New York Times the charges were dropped in return for the actor’s agreement to perform community service and for forfeiting his $10,000 bond.
"We didn’t exonerate him,” Magats told the Times.
“We stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him and we stand behind the charges in the case," Magats added, according to the Times. "The mere fact that it was disposed of in an alternative manner does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities in the case or the evidence.”
Magats’ explanation contradicts comments made earlier on Tuesday by Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, who denied report that the charges were dropped due to a deferred-prosecution deal.
Patricia Brown Holmes, an attorney for Smollett, denied reports that the charges were dropped due to a deferred-prosecution deal.
“There is no deal. Prosecutors dismissed the charges,” Holmes told reporters during at a press conference.
Holmes said Smollett deferred his $10,000 bond voluntarily, and that the money paid to brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo were for “nutrition and training," not to orchestrate a fake assault against him.
“We believe that it was the correct result in this case. We’re very happy for this result," Holmes added. “And we are very anxious for Jussie to get on with his career and his life and to move forward.”
Here is Smollett’s full statement on the matter:
Like many people, Fox News legal analyst Andrew Napolitano was stunned by prosecutors’ decision to drop all charges.
“It sounds as if the government has asked to dismiss its own indictment,” Napolitano said during America’s Newsroom. “Quite frankly this is almost unheard of.”
“It is either the result of extraordinary lawyering on behalf of his lawyers, or a realization by the government of some defect in its evidence that it did not know it had at he time it sought and obtained an indictment against him,” Napolitano added.
Smollett’s attorneys Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes issued a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times after the hearing: