Chicago prosecutors dropped all charges against disgraced actor Jussie Smollett on Tuesday, simultaneously insisting the move did not “exonerate him” and came as part of an agreement he would complete community service.
After Smollett claimed to be the victim of a hate crime in January, evidence steadily emerged to demonstrate the alleged attack had been staged by the “Empire” star. Smollett was charged in February with 16 counts of disorderly conduct related to filing a false report, all of which were dropped by Cook County prosecutors on Tuesday.
“We stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him and we stand behind the charges in the case. The mere fact that it was disposed of in an alternative manner does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities in the case or the evidence,” Joe Magats, the first assistant state’s attorney, told Julie Bosman of the New York Times, further claiming, “We didn’t exonerate him.”
“The charges against Smollett were dropped in return for his agreement to do community service, [Magats] said, and for forfeiting his bond to the city of Chicago,” Bosman reported. For her part, Smollett’s attorney Elizabeth Brown Holmes insisted no deal had been struck with prosecutors.
Magats said the charges were dropped in part because Smollett is not thought to be a threat to public safety, not because there were problems with the evidence. “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 reportedly explained.
Smollett immediately took a victory lap. A spokeswoman for his lawyers referred to the actor as “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.” (Of course, the actual rush to judgement was actually in the opposite direction.) In a press conference at the Chicago courthouse, Smollett himself claimed he had been “truthful and consistent on every level from day one.”
Even in dismissing the charges, prosectors clearly did not agree, as evidenced by Magats’s defense of the evidence. One detective who worked on the case called the turn of events a “punch in the gut.”
“Central Detective Cmdr. Edward Wodnicki, whose detectives led the investigation into Smollett, said prosecutors gave no heads up to police that the charges would be dropped. He also expressed concern that it left it looking as if police mishandled the investigation,” the Chicago Tribune reported. According to Wodnicki, detectives found “overwhelming” evidence against Smollett.
“It’s absolutely a punch in the gut,” he told the Tribune. “We worked very, very closely throughout our three-week investigation to get to the point where we arrested the offender. So for the state’s attorney’s office at this point to dismiss the charges … without discussing this with us at all is just shocking.” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the dropped charges constituted a “whitewash of justice.”
While Smollett maintains his innocence, Nigerian brothers Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo have already admitted they accepted payment to help stage the attack.
Just last week, the Chicago Fraternal Order of Police requested the Justice Department probe whether “County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx asked Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson to let the FBI investigate Smollett’s allegations. … after the former chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama informed Foxx that Smollett’s family had concerns about the probe.” Foxx ultimately recused herself from the case, and Magats took over.