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Dismissal of charges raises more questions in Smollett case

Free Press wire reports | 3/29/2019, 6 a.m.
Prosecutors still insist Jussie Smollett faked a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in the hopes that the attention would advance ...
Jussie Smollett, right, stands beside his attorney, Patricia Brown Holmes, at a press conference in Chicago after prosecutors on Tuesday dropped felony charges accusing him of faking a racist, anti-gay attack on himself. The “Empire” star agreed to do community service and let the city keep his $10,000 bail exchange for the deal. Paul Beaty/Associated Press

CHICAGO

Prosecutors still insist Jussie Smollett faked a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in the hopes that the attention would advance his acting career. The star of the hit Fox network television show “Empire” still says he was assaulted by two men late at night in downtown Chicago.

But with little explanation, authorities on Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against Mr. Smollett, abandoning the criminal case only five weeks after the allegations were filed. In return, prosecutors said, the actor agreed to do two days of community service and let the city keep his $10,000 in bail.

The dismissal drew a swift backlash from Chicago’s mayor and police chief and raised questions about why Mr. Smollett was not forced to admit what prosecutors had said they could prove in court — that the entire episode was a publicity stunt.

Among those sure to keep pressing for answers is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appeared blindsided by the decision. His voice rising in anger at times, Mayor Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Mr. Smollett. He said Mr. Smollett had exploited hate-crime laws meant to protect minorities by turning the laws “inside out, upside down for only one thing — himself.”

“Where is the accountability in the system?” Mayor Emanuel asked. “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.”

Mr. Smollett has become a household name as a result of the case, but it’s unclear if the dropped charges will diminish the taint that followed his arrest last month. His insistence that he had been vindicated may make the entertainment industry cautious about fully embracing him.

Defense attorneys said Mr. Smollett’s record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report. The actor, who also agreed to do community service, insisted that he had “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 was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutors’ office said the dismissal came “after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case.” Tandra Simonton called it “a just disposition and appropriate resolution” but said it was not an exoneration.

First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats said prosecutors “stand behind the investigation and the facts.”

When dropping cases, prosecutors will sometimes insist that the defendant accept at least a measure of responsibility. Outside court, neither Mr. Smollett nor his legal team appeared to concede anything about his original report in January .

Defense attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Mr. Smollett was “attacked by two people he was unable to identify” and “was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”

Authorities alleged that Mr. Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him.