CHICAGO (AP) — Prosecutors on Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett, the “Empire” actor who was accused of lying to police about being the target of a racist, anti-gay attack in downtown Chicago, his attorneys said.
Smollett’s attorneys said his record had “been wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was assaulted by two men. The actor 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.”
It was not immediately clear what prompted the decision to dismiss the case. Typically, a minimum condition of dropping cases is some acceptance of responsibility. In a statement, the Cook County prosecutors’ office offered no detailed explanation.
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’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,” the statement from spokeswoman Tandra Simonton said.
Smollett paid $10,000 in bail to get out of jail after his arrest.
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel blasted the decision to drop charges against Smollett, calling it a “whitewash of justice.”
Standing next to Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who railed against Smollett when announcing charges in February, Emanuel denounced the decision to drop charges, saying that a grand jury looked at the evidence. Both Emanuel and Johnson maintained that Smollett perpetrated a hoax.
“From top to bottom, this is not on the level,” Emanuel said. “You have a person using hate crime laws that are on the books [to promote himself]. Is there no decency in this man?”
“My personal opinion is, you all know where I stand on this,’” Johnson said. “Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology.”
Among the unanswered questions was whether prosecutors still believe Smollett concocted the attack and whether new evidence emerged that altered their view of events.
Smollett was accused of falsely reporting to authorities that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago. Authorities said he made the report because he was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and believed it would promote his career.
The actor, who is black and gay, plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show that follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.
He reported that he was assaulted on his way home from a sandwich shop. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. He asserted that he could see one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.
Police said Smollett hired two men, both of whom are black, to attack him. Smollett allegedly paid the men $3,500.
The men are brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked on “Empire.” An attorney for them has said the brothers agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and the sense that he was helping their careers.
Police have also said that before the attack, Smollett sent a letter that threatened him to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot. The FBI, which is investigating that letter, has declined to comment on the investigation.
His attorneys released the following statement:
“Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him. Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was 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 judgement.
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong. It is a reminder that a victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result.
“Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends and career.”
Here’s Smollett’s statement in its entirety, courtesy WGN:
“First of all, I want to thank my family, my friends, the incredible people of Chicago and all over the country and the world who have prayed for me, for supporting me and showing me so much love.
“No one will ever know how much that has meant to me and I will forever be grateful.
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain.
“I’ve 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 accused of.
“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’m a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through the fire like this, I just wouldn’t.
“So I want to thank my legal counsel from the bottom of my heart.
“And I would also like to thank the State of Illinois for attempting to do what’s right.
“Now I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistakes, I will always continue to fight for the justice and equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.
“So again, thank you for all the support. Thank you for faith, and thank you to God. Bless you all. Thank you very much.”