Chicago, IL – “Empire” star Jussie Smollett vowed to keep fighting for justice after an emergency court hearing on Tuesday where the charges against him were dropped.
Cook County prosecutors announced they had dropped all charges against Smollett, after previously charging the actor with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a hoax hate crime on himself and reporting it to police.
"After reviewing all 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," said Tandra Simonton, chief communications officer of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, according to the Chicago Tribune.
It turns out that in exchange for making the case go away, all Smollett had to do was 16 hours of community service at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition and forfeit the $10,000 bail he posted after he was arrested, WBBM reported.
Smollett addressed reporters outside the courthouse after the hearing and thanked people who have prayed for him and showed him “so much love.”
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain. I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since Day One,” Smollett told reporters. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I have been accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time – honestly, one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith, and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through the fire like this. I just wouldn’t.”
But the prosecutor who brought charges against Smollett said they weren’t dropped because the actor is innocent.
“I do not believe he is innocent,” First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told WBBN.
Magats, who took over the case when Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had to recuse herself for attempting to help his family get the investigation transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said he was the one who made the decision to drop the 16 felony counts against Smollett.
“Based on all facts and circumstances of the case, and also keeping in mind resources and keeping in mind that the office’s number one priority is to combat violent crime and the drivers of violence, I decided to offer this disposition in the case,” he said.
Magats issued further statements later in the day to clarify his position on Smollett's innocence, or lack thereof, and explain his decision to dismiss the charges.
"Here's the thing -- we work to prioritize violent crime and the drivers of violent crime. Public safety is our number one priority. I don't see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety," he said, according to a tweet from the New York Times.
He said he saw no problems with the police investigation or the evidence against the actor but that the charges against him were dropped in return for his agreement to do community service and for forfeiting his bond to the city of Chicago, the New York Times tweeted.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson held little back in expressing their disgust and anger at a press conference Tuesday afternoon on Navy Pier, shortly after the conclusion of police academy graduation.
Superintendent Johnson accused Smollett of hiding being a brokered deal rather than having his day in court.
“At the end of the day, it’s Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax. If he wanted to clear his name… If they want to dispute those facts, then the place to do that is court,” the superintendent said.
If Superintendent Johnson looked angry when he addressed reporters, the mayor was absolutely enraged when he took the microphone.
“This is a whitewash of justice. A grand jury could not have been clearer,” Emanuel told reporters.
He said Smollett was still trashing the police department’s reputation despite the fact it was a grand jury that indicted him.
The mayor said this is not a case of the police department’s word against Smollett, and that the actor has taking “no sense of ownership of what he’s done” and was still claiming he was the wronged party.
“This is a person now who has been let off scot free without any sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions… you have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books to protect people that are minorities from violence, then to turn around and use those laws to advance your career and your financial reward – is there no decency?” Emanuel ranted.
He was furious the case had been sealed by a judge, and said the city should be able to see everything because Smollett had repeatedly said he had nothing to hide.
“From top to bottom, this is not on the level… I also want to say and emphasize and underscore what the superintendent said, at the end of the day it’s Smollett who made the false claims,” the mayor declared.
Emanuel talked about the waste of money from the investigation, but he also talked about a bigger moral cost of abusing hate crime laws set up to protect someone like Smollett.
“The ethical cost… to use those very laws and the principals and values behind the Matthew Shepherd legislation to self-promote your career is a cost that comes to all the individuals - gay men and women - who will someday come forward and now will be doubted,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said the Chicago Police Department’s investigation had been thorough and effective.
“Our officers did hard work day-in and day-out working to unwind what actually happened that night,” the mayor said angrily. “The city saw its reputation dragged through the mud.”
He said the grand jury made their decision based on only a sliver of the evidence.
“Because of the judge’s decision, none of that evidence will ever be made public,” Emanuel lamented.
“This is without a doubt a whitewash and sends a clear message that if you’re in a position of influence and power you’ll be treated one way…” the mayor said.
Emanuel said you can’t have two separate sets of rules.
He compared Smollett getting away with the hoax to the recent case of the celebrity parents who bought their kids’ way into good colleges and universities.
Emanuel told reporters that Smollett was getting special treatment.
He also brought up the hoax death threat letter Smollett claimed to have received at the television studio.
That letter is still under federal investigation but is believed to have been sent by Smollett to himself.
Smollett was initially charged with one count of felony disorderly conduct on Feb. 20.
The 36-year-old actor turned himself in at the Chicago Police Department’s 1st District at 5 a.m. on Feb. 21, to face felony disorderly conduct charges for filing a false police report. He was released on bond later the same day.
Chicago police have said they believe Smollett lied when he told police he was jumped by two masked men as he was walking home from a Subway restaurant in his Streeterville neighborhood in the early hours of Jan. 29.
He said the men beat him, and hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him.
Smollett told police that the men threw an unknown substance on him and put a noose around his neck before they ran off.
His manager told police that he was on the phone with his client at the time of the attack and heard Smollett’s attackers say “This is MAGA country” while they were assaulting the actor, NBC News reported.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson explained at a press conference the day of Smollett’s arrest that that police considered the actor a victim up until Ola and Abel Osundairo returned from Nigeria to Chicago and were taken into police custody, and then the investigation “spun in a totally different direction.”
“We gave him the benefit of the doubt up until that 47th hour. But when we discovered the actual motive, quite frankly, it pissed everybody off,” he explained.
He said the brothers told police that Smollett paid them $3,500 to stage the attack, with another $500 after they returned from a planned trip to Nigeria.
“We have the check that he used to pay them,” Superintendent Johnson said.
Despite the copious quantities of evidence that the police investigation unearthed pointing to Smollett as his own attacker, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office decided not to pursue the case.
Smollett took time to thank the attorneys involved.
“So I want to thank my legal counsel from the bottom of my heart. And I would also like to thank the state of Illinois for attempting to do what’s right,” he said.
“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 the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere,” Smollett added.