Jussie Smollett is about to test that old adage that any publicity is good publicity.
Charges that the “Empire” star orchestrated and lied about being attacked in January were dropped by prosecutors in Chicago on Tuesday.
Live updates: Jussie Smollett charges dropped
Smollett had pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct by a Cook County grand jury.
“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,” Cook County prosecutors said in a statement Tuesday.
“His record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him,” Smollett’s attorneys said in a statement.
All charges against Jussie Smollett have been dropped
“Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th,” the statement continued. “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.”
It was a surprising ending to a case that cast a shadow over Smollett’s career and his work as an advocate for the LGBTQ community.
Though Smollett maintained his innocence throughout, the studio behind “Empire” announced that his character, Jamal Lyon, would be cut from the final two episodes of the show’s current season to “avoid further disruption on set.”
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us,” a statement from 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment read at the time. “Jussie has been an important member of our ‘Empire’ family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out.”
An accomplished singer, Smollett had also been performing concerts in support of his debut album, “Sum of My Music,” which released in early March.
The decision to drop the charges against Smollett angered some.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision by the prosecutor a “whitewash of justice.”
“You have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books” to promote himself, Emanuel said. “Is there no decency in this man?”
Jonathan Bernstein, author and president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., told CNN Tuesday that while the investigation won’t end Smollett’s career, the spectre of it will linger.
“He’s always going to be associated with Jussie Smollett, the guy who may or may not set up his own mugging,” Bernstein said. “I don’t think the police dropping charges is enough because of the way this happened.”
Bernstein said that because of the high profile nature of the case, both prosecutors and Smollett need to be completely transparent about everything that happened, including the decision to drop all charges.
“The court of public opinion is still going to want to hear an explanation about why, specifically, charges were dropped,” Bernstein said. “There’s a difference between dropping charges because there’s absolutely no basis for them and dropping charges because there is insufficient evidence.”
David E. Johnson, chief executive officer of Strategic Vision PR Group, said for Smollett to “fully recover,” he needed prosecutors to say he was “vindicated 100%.”
If Smollett was his client, Johnson said he would advise “a gradual reintroduction” to the public and “a hard hitting one-on-one interview.”
Johnson suggested Smollett should do another interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts to clear the air.
“If you looked at her comments [after their initial interview], it felt like she might have been burned by him so it’s going to be a harder interview,” Johnson said of another potential interview. “The focus, the glare on both of them is going to be a lot more intense then with someone else.”
Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, told reporters Tuesday that records in her client’s court case have been sealed.
The actor posed for photos with supporters at the courthouse where the emergency hearing to drop the charges against him was held. He told the gathered media that he wants to move on with his life.
“I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” Smollett said. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of.”
In a statement Tuesday, “Empire” producers said they were “gratified” they charges against Smollett were dismissed.
Writers for the Fox series noted on Twitter that a new episode of the show would be airing Wednesday.
Jason Hanna, Melissa Alonso,Sandra Gonzalez, Bill Kirkos, Steve Almasy and Sheena Jones contributed to this report