Update 3:15 p.m.
Empire actor Jussie Smollett said Tuesday he wants to “just get back to work and move on with my life” after Cook County prosecutors dropped charges alleging he lied to police about a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly, one of the worst of my entire life,” Smollett said in brief remarks to the media at the Leighton Criminal Courts Building.
“We’re very happy for this result, and we are very anxious for Jussie to get on with his career and his life and to move forward,” Smollett attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said.
Smollett’s attorneys said his record “has been wiped clean.”
But that characterization was disputed by Cook County First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats.
“I think it’s … being spun as like a vindication or some statement that there was something wrong with the police investigation in this case. That is categorically not true. We stand behind the CPD investigation,” Magats told WBEZ.
He said no new evidence emerged since Smollett was charged, and what happened in court Tuesday was a form of “alternative prosecution.”
Magats said alternative prosecution is a way to dispose of cases without giving someone a criminal record and allowing prosecutors to focus their resources on violent offences. Since Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx has taken office, prosecutors have referred over 5,700 offenders for alternative prosecution, according to a spokesperson for her office.
“The fact that a case is resolved by an alternative to a conviction, or pleading guilty, or being on probation or going to the penitentiary is not always a statement that there is something wrong with the case. And that is the situation with regard to Mr. Smollet’s case,” Magats said.
Magats said that everything that happened in the courtroom was normal. But Terry Ekl, a former Cook County prosecutor and a longtime defense attorney, said that he thought the state’s attorney’s handling of the case was strange.
“It’s really surprising to the point of being shocked,” said Ekl.
“Having been in the criminal justice system for over 45 years, this is not a typical or a normal way to dispose of a case as serious as this one,” said Ekl.
He said he didn’t want to speculate on the motivations of the state’s attorney’s office, but highlighted the fact that Smollett is wealthy and that he gave up $10,000 bond.
“It just has a real bad stench to it,” said Ekl.
Some of Chicago’s top officials expressed anger with the decision. Speaking at a Police Department graduation ceremony Tuesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel both reaffirmed their belief that Smollett is guilty.
“This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice,” Emanuel said. “And sends a clear message: that if you are in a position of influence and power, you will get treated one way. Other people will be treated another way. There is no accountability, then, in the system.”
Johnson said they were not notified by the State’s Attorney’s Office that charges were going to be dropped.
Police and prosecutors alleged the black and gay actor falsely reported to authorities that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago because he was unhappy with his pay on Empire and to promote his career. Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts related to making a false report.
Smollett reported that he had been attacked on his way home from a sandwich shop in the city’s Streeterville neighborhood. 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. Police said Smollett 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.
Reporting by WBEZ’s Shannon Heffernan, Miles Bryan and Max Green. The Associated Press contributed.