STREETERVILLE — Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx defended her office’s handling of the Jussie Smollett case during a meeting with reporters Wednesday morning.
Foxx’s comments come a day after her office dropped all charges against the “Empire” actor, who was charged with falsifying a police report after police and prosecutors said he made up a racially based attack in an effort to raise his profile and collect a bigger salary.
The move was criticized by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Supt. Eddie Johnson, who said there was more than enough evidence to prove Smollett had orchestrated a hoax.
That is not the point, Foxx said during a previously scheduled meeting with reporters at WBEZ’s office at Navy Pier.
“I think that there is a lot of confusion,” Foxx said, adding that there was a “slim” chance Smollett would have received jail time in the case. “There’s some people who were never going to be satisfied unless Mr. Smollett spent many nights in prison.”
Foxx, who recused herself from the case early on due to her knowledge of potential witnesses, said the deal was not made by her but wasn’t uncommon. She said the case will be unsealed.
Prosecutors look at defendants’ backgrounds and criminal history when making these decisions, she said. They also look at data and whether they believe the defendant will re-offend. Smollett did not have a residence in Chicago, which also made traveling back and forth for hearings difficult and led to a more speedy resolution of the case.
Forfeiting his $10,000 bond and doing community service are examples of someone being held responsible, she said.
“This is not what it looks like on ‘Law and Order.’ I think that’s where the angst and confusion comes from,” Foxx said. “Right now there’s a lot of emotion and I wholeheartedly believe in our line of work we cannot be driven by emotion. We have to be driven by facts.”
Foxx, who was harshly criticized by the police union Tuesday, said she was frustrated by the attention the Smollett case received — especially given the other cases her office is dealing with.
“We have 40,000 felony-level cases that we deal with every year,” she said, adding that Chicago’s homicide rate, shootings and sex crimes outpace those of other cities.
What Smollett did will have an impact on how hate crime victims will be perceived, she said. But she said it breaks her heart the Smollett case got so much more attention than others, like a toddler being shot while on his mom’s lap.
“I hear it. I hear the concerns and I don’t believe it is the prosecutor’s place to suggest that we make example because when we’ve done that it has had disastrous outcomes not just for the exemplar” but for people in similar situations, she said.
She also said this case is not some metaphor for her overall relationship with the police department.
”It does boggle the mind that of the tens of thousands of cases” handled, “this is somehow emblematic” of the relationship between her office and police, she said.
While Smollett maintained his innocence on Tuesday, Foxx’s office has been consistent in saying the actor made up the attack.
“I do not believe he is innocent,” Joseph Magats, first assistant Cook County state’s attorney, told CBS2 on Tuesday. Magats was the lead prosecutor in the case. “Based on all facts and circumstances of the case, and also keeping in mind resources and keeping in mind that the office’s No. 1 priority is to combat violent crime and the drivers of violence, I decided to offer this disposition in the case.”
Police and prosecutors said Smollett paid $3,500 to two brothers to pretend to attack him in Streeterville. The men, who were later interviewed by police, punched Smollett “a little bit” and the actor “self-inflicted” cuts and scratches on his face as part of the alleged ruse, Johnson said at the time.
Smollett’s attorney said Tuesday the $3,500 the actor paid his alleged attackers wasn’t part of a ruse, but was instead meant to help the men pay for nutrition and athletic training.
After the alleged attack, Smollett told police he’d been beaten by two men who yelled racial and homophobic slurs at him, put a noose around his neck and threw a liquid on him.
Smollett reportedly told investigators that his attackers called him “‘Empire’ f—–” and “‘Empire’ n—–,” and told him Chicago was “MAGA” territory.
But within weeks police said the attack had not actually occurred. Smollett was charged and written out from the last episodes of “Empire’s” latest season.
Johnson also alleged it was Smollett who first sent a racist letter to the set of “Empire” threatening himself. Johnson said he did it because he was dissatisfied with his salary.