Prosecutors on Dropping Smollett Charges: ‘We Did Not Exonerate' Him

All criminal charges against Smollett were dropped Tuesday

What to Know

  • All criminal charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett were dropped Tuesday, his legal team said
  • Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of disorderly conduct earlier this month
  • Chicago police alleged he staged a hate crime attack on himself in January

The Cook County State's Attorney's office said it believes dropping all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett was a "just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case," but noted they "did not exonerate" the "Empire" actor. 

"In the last two years, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has referred more than 5,700 cases for alternative prosecution. This is not a new or unusual practice," the office said in a statement. "An alternative disposition does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities with the case or the evidence. We stand behind the Chicago Police Department's investigation and our decision to approve charges in this case. We did not exonerate Mr. Smollett. The charges were dropped in return for Mr. Smollett's agreement to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the City of Chicago."

In a later interview, First Assistant State's Attorney Joseph Magats said the decision followed a look at the offiice's resources, saying "our number priority is violent crime."

He added that Smollett was "not a victim of a hate crime" and had already served two days of community service.  

The decision comes after a nearly two-month saga in the case. 

"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," Smollett said outside the courtroom Tuesday. "I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of."

The Chicago Police Department said it was not notified of the prosecution's decision to drop charges and found out about the news during a graduation ceremony for recruits. 

"It’s a punch in the gut. Is absolutely a punch in the gut," said Commander Ed Wodnicki. "We worked closely throughout our three-week investigation to get to the point where we arrested the offender. For the state's attorney at this point to dismiss charges without discussing this with us at all is just shocking." 

Police said they were "prepared for trial" and have a "rock solid case." 

"We have overwhelming evidence," Wodnicki said, calling the move a "slap in our face." 

A visibly angry Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the decision a "whitewash of justice."

"Where is the accountability in the system?" Emanuel said during a press conference. "You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them and another set of rules apply to everybody else."  

Meanwhile, Smollett's family said in a statement the actor is "an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared."  

"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," the family's statement read. "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."

Smollett's attorneys said 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."

Smollett reported the alleged attack to police on Jan. 29, claiming to have been beaten by two men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs, beat him, put a noose around his neck, and poured bleach on him, according to the indictment.

Initially investigating the incident as a possible hate crime, Chicago police said new information "shifted" their approach to the case, leading them to allege that Smollett orchestrated the assault by hiring two brothers who worked on "Empire" to execute it.

Smollett was initially charged with one felony count of disorderly conduct in filing a false police report, with Chicago police alleging that he staged the hate crime attack because he was "dissatisfied with his salary."

A Cook County grand jury later indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts, which he pleaded not guilty to.  

The lawyer for the brothers, Obabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, previously said the pair had evidence backing their claim that he orchestrated the attack. Smollett's lawyers said "misinformation" had been reported in the case and said they planned to prove a lack of evidence in the case.

A representative for the brothers' legal team said their attorneys were reviewing the latest developments Tuesday.

State's Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the case in February, with documents obtained earlier this month via Freedom of Information Act request showing that Foxx had asked Johnson to turn the investigation over to the FBI.

Magats said Tuesday that had nothing to do with the decision to drop charges, however.

"There has been no outside, undo, inappropriate influence on this case what so ever," he said. 

Smollett said he would "like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life but make no mistakes I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."

In a statement, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said Smollett "has always maintained his innocentand we are gratified on his behalf that all charges against him have been dismissed."

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