A special prosecutor in Chicago said Monday that Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her office abused their discretion in the case against actor Jussie Smollett but the abuse fell short of standards for criminal charges.
In a summary of the conclusions of his investigation, special prosecutor Dan Webb sharply criticized the handling of the Smollett case by Foxx and her assistant prosecutors, saying their work was marked by disarray and misleading statements.
In March last year, Foxx’s office surprised and angered many in Chicago by dropping charges that accused the Empire actor of staging a racist, homophobic attack against himself. Smollett is still adamant that the attack was real and wasn’t a publicity hoax.
Webb’s summary said his investigation “did not develop evidence that would support any criminal charges against State’s Attorney Foxx or any individual working at [her office].”
The summary added that the probe “did develop evidence that establishes substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures” in how Foxx’s office handled the Smollett matter.
Webb’s findings came after he restored disorderly conduct charges against Smollett in February. Webb said at the time that dropping the charges against Smollett was unjustified, partly because the actor was not required to admit that the attack was a hoax.
One focus of Webb’s inquiry was whether Foxx acted improperly by speaking to a Smollett relative and, separately, to a one-time aide of former first lady Michelle Obama before the charges were dropped.
Webb’s summary said Foxx kept texting and calling the relative — identified as Smollett’s sister Jurnee Smollett-Bell — for at least five days after she learned the actor was a suspect, not a victim.
The summary also said Foxx and her top assistant, Joseph Magats, made at least six false or misleading public statements about the dismissal of the initial Smollett charges and Foxx’s recusal.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Foxx’s office said it “categorically rejects” Webb’s finding that the state’s attorney abused her discretion and made false public statements. Foxx’s office said the Smollett case has led to changes including hiring a new ethics officer and “strengthening the recusal plan with clear guidelines and explicit definitions of conflicts of interest.”
Foxx is the first Black woman to hold Cook County’s top law enforcement job. She defeated her Democratic primary opponents earlier this year even as they made her handling of the Smollett case central to their campaigns. In the general election this November, she faces Republican Patrick O’Brien, a former Cook County judge.
A statement Monday afternoon from O’Brien said Webb’s review showed Foxx “breaching the state’s attorney’s ethical obligations of honesty and transparency.” The statement called on Foxx to resign.
Charging documents refiled by Webb in February accuse Smollett, who is Black and openly gay, of making a false police report that claimed two men attacked him early on Jan. 29, 2019, in downtown Chicago, shouting slurs and looping a rope around his neck.
Reform advocates have hailed reforms Foxx pushed through — often over the angry objections of Chicago’s police union and chiefs of police across Cook County. Those reforms include treating certain nonviolent crimes, such as shoplifting, as lower priorities.