DOWNTOWN — Just because the state dropped charges against Jussie Smollett doesn’t mean he’s innocent, prosecutors said Tuesday.
Smollett, 36, was charged with falsifying a police report after police and prosecutors said he made up a racially based attack so he’d get more money from the TV show he works on, “Empire.” But those charges were dropped abruptly Tuesday after Smollett did at least 16 hours of community service and agreed to forfeit $10,000 to the city.
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.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office also noted dropping the charges did not mean it had “exonerate[d]” Smollett in an interview with NBC5.
“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.”
In a news conference after the charges were dropped, Smollett’s attorney said he was innocent. The actor himself said he hopes to get back to work and move on.
“I have been truthful and consistent on” everything, Smollett said. “This has been an incredibly difficult time.”
Johnson said he stood behind the police investigation that led to Smollett being charged with Disorderly Conduct and Falsifying a Police Report after prosecutors and police said he staged a racially motivated attack so he’d be offered more money for his work on “Empire.”
“Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology,” Johnson said while standing alongside Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Tuesday at Navy Pier.
Emanuel said a grand jury indicted Smollett based on just parts of the evidence Chicago Police collected.
“He did this all in the name of self-promotion… . This is a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel said.
Emanuel said there’s an ethical cost to dropping the charges that should be considered, too. Smollett’s misuse of the Matthew Shepard hate crime law means gay men and women who are victims of hate crimes will now be doubted, he said.
“The city saw its reputation dragged through the mud,” Emanuel said.
In a statement, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said it decided to drop the charges because Smollett has volunteered “in the community” and was giving $10,000 to the city by forfeiting his bond.
The $10,000 doesn’t “even come close to what the city spent” on resources that brought about Smollett’s indictment, Emanuel said.
A police spokesman said the department spent tens of thousands on the investigation and called the decision to drop the charges — without alerting the police superintendent in advance — a “slap in the face.”
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said police completed an “excellent” investigation and their work was reaffirmed by the independent grand jury.
“In our experience, innocent individuals don’t forget bond & perform community service in exchange for dropped charges,” Guglielmi tweeted.
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.
“I know how hard it’s been for our city and nation to come together,” Johnson said at the time. “This announcement today recognizes that ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. …How can an individual who’s been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in the city in the face by making these false claims? Bogus police reports cause real harm.
“… I’m offended by what’s happened and I’m also angry. … This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve. To make things worse, the accusations within this phony attack received national attention for weeks.”
Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx had recused herself from the investigation “out of an abundance of caution” based upon her “familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” according to a statement from her office.
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