All charges against Jussie Smollett – the actor who’d been accused of staging a hate crime against himself in Chicago – were dropped Tuesday, a development that his attorneys hailed as vindication but angered top city officials who still are calling his victimhood claim a hoax.
The move is a dramatic reversal in a case in which police alleged just last month that the 36-year-old “Empire” actor hired two acquaintances to attack him along a street in late January to promote his career and then filed a false police report.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer that Smollett used the prospect of a hate crime to advance his acting career and is now walking around like he did nothing wrong.
The mayor said if Smollett were not an actor with influence, he would have been held to a different legal standard.
“It’s just not right. It’s not right on any level,” he said.
The prosecutor in the case said he understood that people would question dropping the charges, but that thousands of cases have similar resolutions and Smollett forfeited his bail money and did community service so that the matter would be closed before trial.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office released little about why it abandoned the 16 felony disorderly conduct charges, except to say it came after reviewing the case’s facts, and that the actor agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond. Parts of the case will be sealed, one of Smollett’s attorneys said.
“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,” the state’s attorney’s office said in a statement.
Smollett performed a total of 16 hours of volunteer service on Saturday and Monday for the Rainbow Push Coalition, which was founded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson. A spokesman for the group could not say whether the service was related to this case.
First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats, the lead prosecutor, said the charges would not have been dropped without the bond forfeiture and the community service factor. He added that Smollett had no prior felonies and wasn’t a danger to the community.
“He was prosecuted. It may not have been the disposition that everybody thought would occur,” Magats told CNN affiliate WLS. “He did do community service. He did forfeit $10,000. It’s a fair and just disposition in the case.”
Magats said there were 5,700 other cases with similar results, but this one stood out in the media because of the defendant’s celebrity.
When asked whether he considered Smollett to be innocent, the prosecutor told WLS: “No.”
Smollet: I have never lied
Smollett’s attorneys maintain that the actor was indeed attacked in Chicago on January 29 and that misinformation led to a rush to judgment against him.
After a brief appearance in a courtroom where the charges were formally dropped, Smollett told reporters Tuesday morning he was thankful to everyone who stood by him, and that he wouldn’t have put his family “through a fire like this” for a lie.
“I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One,” Smollett said before leaving the court building. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of.”
Smollett said he wanted to move on with his life, adding that he “will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
A grand jury indicted Smollett earlier this month on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct after what police said was weeks of painstaking investigation. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges and denied any involvement in orchestrating an attack.
But Chicago’s mayor and police superintendent reacted angrily to the news – and said they still believed Smollett’s story was a hoax.
Mayor: This is a ‘whitewash of justice’
Mayor Emanuel accused the actor of using hate-crime laws to promote himself.
“Is there no decency in this man?” the mayor asked reporters hours after the charges were dropped.
“A grand jury saw the evidence (and) realized this was a hoax – a hoax on the city, a hoax on hate crimes, a hoax on people of good values who actually were empathetic at first.
“And he used that empathy for only one reason … himself,” Emanuel said.
“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 in the system. It is wrong, full stop.”
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said he stood by his detectives’ conclusions: That Smollett staged the attack.
“If you want to say you’re innocent of the situation, then you take your day in court,” Johnson said, standing next to Emanuel. “
“At the end of the day, it’s Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period,” Johnson said. “If he wanted to clear his name, the way to do that was in a court of law so that everybody could see the evidence.”
Smollett said that men attacked him, using racial and homophobic slurs
Smollett, who is black and gay, reported to police that two men attacked him near the lower entrance of a hotel around 2 a.m. on January 29 as he was walking back from getting something to eat.
Smollett, who plays a gay character on the Fox drama “Empire,” said the attackers yelled, ” ‘Empire’ fa***t’” and ” ‘Empire’ n***er,” while striking him, police said. The incident ended with a noose around his neck and bleach poured on him, police said.
The actor said one of the men shouted, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan, according to police.
Police initially investigated the case as a possible hate crime.
After police detained and interviewed two brothers who were “persons of interest” in the case, Johnson, the police superintendent, announced that Smollett was being charged, saying that Smollett knew the men and paid them to stage the attack.
The brothers were released without being charged.
Smollett paid the brothers $3,500 to attack him, to take “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said when announcing the charges last month.
And days before the assault, Smollett first “attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter” to the “Empire” set “that relied on racial, homophobic and political language,” Johnson said. It contained white powder and a drawing of a “stick figure hanging from a tree,” police have said.
According to prosecutors, Smollett told one of the brothers that he was disappointed in the “Empire” team’s reaction to the letter. “When that didn’t work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack,” the police superintendent said.
Authorities cited text messages and hours of surveillance video to bolster their case.
On Tuesday, Smollett attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Smollett did pay the brothers, but only for “nutrition and training.”
“They were his trainers,” she said.
Smollett’s attorney: We believe the brothers attacked him
Brown Holmes said Tuesday that it’s her position that the brothers were Smollett’s attackers.
“The two brothers have said that they attacked him,” she said. “(But) we don’t want to try them in the press any more than” Smollett wanted to be, she said.
Legal team says charges against him were a rush to judgment
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Holmes and another of his attorneys, Tina Glandian, said the actor 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.”
“This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion,” the statement reads. “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.
“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.”
20th Century Fox Television ‘gratified’ that charges were dropped
The studio and network behind the television drama “Empire” said it was “gratified” that the charges against the actor have been dropped.
“Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed,” Chris Alexander, a spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Television and the Fox network, said in a statement to CNN on Tuesday.
Last month, “Empire” producers decided to remove Smollett’s character, Jamal, from the final two episodes of the season. The decision was made to “avoid further disruption on set,” producers said.
CNN’s Meg Wagner, Brian Ries, Ray Sanchez, Sandra Gonzalez, Steve Forrest and Brad Parks contributed to this report.