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 Chicago Police Department said it was not notified of prosecutors' decision to drop all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett and that top brass found out about the news during a graduation ceremony for recruits on Tuesday.
"Do I think justice was served? No," Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson said at an impromptu news conference after the ceremony. "Where do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology."
"At the end of the day, it's Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period," he later added.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, speaking alongside Johnson, called Tuesday's developments "a whitewash of justice," growing visibly angry throughout his remarks.
"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. There is no accountability in the system. It is wrong, full stop," Emanuel said.
CPD's Area Central Commander Ed Wodnicki, who headed the investigation into the alleged hate crime Smollett said he suffered in Chicago on Jan. 29, said the Cook County state's attorney's office did not inform the department of its decision to drop the charges.
"It’s a punch in the gut. It's absolutely a punch in the gut," Wodnicki said, speaking to reporters at the graduation ceremony on Tuesday. Wodnicki "personally led" the "patient and deliberate investigation" into Smollett's claim of an attack, and then Smollett himself, Johnson said at a Feb. 21 news conference announcing a felony charge of disorderly conduct against the actor.
A Cook County grand jury then indicted Smollett in early March on 16 felony counts in connection with his reporting of the alleged attack, which police claimed he staged against himself because he was "dissatisfied with his salary." All charges against Smollett were dropped in an emergency hearing in the case Tuesday, during which the actor also agreed to give the refund of his $10,000 cash bond, minus clerk fees, to the city of Chicago.
"We worked closely throughout our three-week investigation to get to the point where we arrested the offender," Wodnicki said, adding, "For the state's attorney at this point to dismiss charges without discussing this with us at all is just shocking."
Emanuel took particular aim at what he alleged was Smollett's use of hate crime legislation, passed while Emanuel was a member of Congress.
"To then use those very laws and the principles and values behind the Matthew Shepard hate crimes legislation to self-promote your career is a cost that comes to all the individuals, gay men and women who will come forward and one day say they were a victim of a hate crime who now will be doubted, people of faith, Muslim or any other religious faith who will be a victim of hate crimes, people of all walks of life and backgrounds - race, ethnicity, sexual orientation," Emanuel said. "Now this casts a shadow of whether they're telling the truth and he did this all in the name of self-promotion."
After the charges were dropped, Smollett said in a brief statement that he was thankful for his supporters and insisted that he had been telling the truth all along.
"I have 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 have been accused of," Smollett said.
"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 a fire like this. I just wouldn't," Smollett added.
In response, Emanuel said the actor had "no sense of ownership of what he's done."
"He says that in fact, he's the wronged in this case. This is an unbelievable, not just whitewash of justice, this is a person now who's been let off scot-free with no sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions from top to bottom," Emanuel continued, asking, "Is there no decency in this man?"
In an earlier statement on the charges being dropped, the Cook County state's attorney's office said, “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollet’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."
But like Emanuel and Johnson, Wodnicki too disagreed with that assessment, saying Chicago's "citizens should be angry."
"We've got more than $10,000 invested in this investigation," he said, referencing Smollett's bond refund and adding, "We wasted time and effort on a serious reported crime."
"On financial costs, this $10,000 doesn’t even come close to what the city spent in resources to actually look over the cameras, gather all the data, gather all the information that actually brought the indictment by the grand jury on many, many multiple different charges," Emanuel later added.
Wodnicki also said the department was prepared for the case against Smollett to go to trial.
"We have a rock-solid case, as the superintendent said in the initial press conference. We have overwhelming evidence," he said. "I've been doing this for 35 years, believe me, this investigation is solid."
"This is a slap in our face," Wodnicki continued, speaking on the state's attorney's office failure to notify police. "They weren’t courteous to give us a heads up."
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.
Johnson confirmed that he was not told the charges would be dropped, telling reporters, "We found out about it when you all did."
When asked if the decision to drop the charges was politically motivated, Emanuel replied, "To the state's attorney, the question about whether it was politically motivated or not is something you have to ask them, because only they can answer their motivation."