(CHICAGO) — In a stunning move, prosecutors in Chicago dropped all charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett on Tuesday despite acknowleging Smollet fabricated a street attack on himself in an attempt to get a pay raise.
“We stand behind the investigation and the facts revealed,” said Joe Magats, the first assistant state attorney in Illinois, who took over the case when his boss, State Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the probe after it surfaced that she had been in touch with Smollett’s family.
“We believe he did what he was charged with doing,” Magats said in an interview with ABC station WLS-TV in Chicago.
Asked again whether he believes Smollett fabricated the incident, Magats replied, “yes.”
“This was not an exoneration. To say that he was exonerated by us or anyone is not true,” he said.
Magats also said that he was satisfied with Smollett forfeiting the 10 percent of a $100,000 bond that he put up, and completing community service prior to getting the charges dropped.
“In return for forfeiting his bond to the City of Chicago and doing his community service, we agreed to dismiss the charges against him. He did community service for Operation PUSH.”
‘An incredibly difficult time’
The unanticipated development shocked Chicago, and prompted angry reactions from Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who each reiterated their belief that the incident was a hoax — with Emanuel wondering aloud, “Is there no decency in this man?”
The duo went on to accuse to ‘Empire’ actor of receiving preferential treatment by the Illinois State Attorney’s Office.
Smollett appeared at an an emergency court hearing in Chicago Tuesday, where prosecutors told a judge they were dismissing the 16 charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report against the 36-year-old actor.
Following the court hearing, Smollett publicly spoke, thanking his attorneys, friends, the citizens of Chicago and “the state of Illinois for attempting to do what is right.”
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain,” Smollett said outside the courtroom. “I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. 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,” he said. “Honestly, one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith and I’m a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family our lives, or the movement into a fire like this. I just wouldn’t . Now I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life. But make no mistake I will always continue to fight for justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
But Emanuel and Johnson said they were sticking by the police investigation that found Smollett’s claims of being assaulted on a street in Chicago was a hoax.
“This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon. “There is no accountability. It is wrong, full stop.”
Johnson said he was surprised to learn of the decision to drop charges against Smollett while attending a police academy graduation with Mayor Emanuel.
A furious Johnson said prosecutors brokered a deal with Smollett in secrecy.
“I’m sure we all know what happened this morning,” Johnson said at his press conference. “Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is owed an apology.”
“At the end of the day, it’s Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period,” Johnson said. “I heard that they wanted their day in court … so America could know the truth, and they chose to hide behind a secrecy of a brokered deal to circumvent the judicial system.”
Johnson said that he and Emanuel only learned about the charges being dropped when it was announced publicly.
“We found about it when you all did,” Johnson said of the lack of notice from the State’s Attorney Office regarding the dropped charges. “I’m sure we’ll have some conversation after this. But again at the end of the day Mr. Smollett committed this hoax.”
Emanuel noted that “a sliver” of the evidence was presented to a grand jury, which indicted Smollett. He said Smollett used race and privilege to “get off scott free” and that the actor has shown no remorse or accountability for his actions.
“A person using hate crime laws that are on the books to protect people who are minorities, and you turn around and use them to advance your career?” Emmanuel said. “Is there no decency in this man?”
While it was not immediately clear what prompted prosecutors to drop the charges against Smollett, a spokesperson for the Cook County State Attorney’s Office noted that the actor will forfeit a $100,000 bond.
Customarily, a $100,000 bond requires that only 10 percent of it be paid in cash, so Smollett will likely forfeit $10,000 in total.
Chicago Police Department spokesman Anthony Gugliemi issued a tweet on his verified account shortly after the mayor and police superintendent spoke, heralding the work of investigators and suggesting that “In our experience, innocent individuals don’t forget bond & perform community service in exchange for dropped charges.”
Emanuel had earlier said that “the financial cost of $10,000 doesn’t even come close to what the city spent in terms of resources.”
The spokesperson, however, said that there was no plea deal, but rather an “agreement,” and that no community service will be required of Smollett.
“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.”
Patricia Brown Holmes, one of Smollett’s lawyers, said it was not unusual for people in similar situations as Smollett to forfeit their bond. She said Smollett “voluntarily” forfeited his bond in order to expedite moving on with his career and his life.
“There is no deal,” Holmes said. “The state dismissed the charges.”
“We believe that it was the correct result in this case,” she said. We’re very happy for this result and we are very anxious for Jussie to get on with his career and his life, and to move forward.”
Asked if she had anything to say to the Chicago Police Department, Holmes said, “We have nothing to say to the police department except to investigate charges and not try their cases in the press, but to allow matters to be investigated and allow the state to investigate and to bring charges and not to jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in a court of law.”
Johnson was not briefed on the decision to dismiss the charges against Smollett and first learned of the decision while at a police academy graduation ceremony, the Chicago Sun-Times reported.
In a joint statement earlier Tuesday, Holmes and Tina Glandian, another one of Smollett’s attorneys, said the actor’s “record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him.”
“Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. 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 judgement,” the defense attorneys said. “Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong. It is a reminder that a victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result.
In mid-Februrary, in an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America” anchor Robin Roberts, Smollett said he was heartbroken when he found out that people questioned the details of his story. He defended himself against skeptics who pointed out that it wasn’t until a follow-up interview with the police that he mentioned that the assailants yelled “MAGA Country!” at him. He also complained about erroneous reports that he had told police that the attackers were actually wearing red MAGA hats.
“For me, the main thing was the idea that I somehow switched up my story, you know? And that somehow maybe I added a little extra trinket, you know, of the MAGA thing,” Smollett said. “I didn’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f—-, they called me a n—-. There’s no which way you cut it. I don’t need some MAGA hat as the cherry on top of some racist sundae.”
In the ABC News interview, Smollett also confirmed reports that he was initially reluctant to contact the police or hand over his cellphone to help with the investigation.
“They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I’m sorry but — I’m not gonna do that,” the singer said. “Because I have private pictures and videos and numbers: my partner’s number, my family’s number, my cast mate’s number, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos.”
Smollett told police that on Jan. 29, he was walking on a street near his apartment around 2 a.m. when he was set upon by two men. The attackers allegedly shouted racist and homophobic slurs before hitting him, pouring “an unknown chemical substance” on him — possibly bleach — and wrapping a rope around his neck, he told detectives.
In a strident statement released shortly after defense attorneys announced that the charges were dropped, Smollett’s family reiterated the actor’s innocence, and subsequent victimization by skeptics.
“Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared,” the family said in a statement. “Jussie is a son, a brother, a partner, a champion for human rights, and a genuine soul who would never be capable of what he was falsely accused of. He was the victim of an assault and then falsely blamed for his own attack. This morning truth has prevailed and he has been vindicated. All charges have been dismissed and his record expunged (cleared).”
“The painful incidents we’ve witnessed him endure over the past 7 weeks have been heartbreaking and unjust to say the least. While many were quick to rush to judgement before hearing the actual truth, we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light. We look forward to bringing the real perpetrators to justice. We thank God and our village for standing by us during this trying time.”
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