Officials in Chicago have dropped the charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a racist and homophobic attack against himself.
Earlier this month, Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 felony counts for allegedly staging the January attack and lying to officials.
“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,” his lawyers said in a statement Tuesday, continuing to maintain that Smollett was “a victim” and “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.”
“We’re very happy for this result and we are very anxious for Jussie to get on with his career and his life,” Smollett attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said during a press conference shortly after the statement.
Holmes declined to comment about the details of the case, saying that it “had spiraled out of control.”
“We have nothing to say to the police department, except to investigate charges and not try cases in the press,” Holmes said.
The case has been sealed, and the office of Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx said it had reached an “agreement” with Smollett and his attorneys rather than a plea deal, so Smollett will not be required to perform community service.
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case ... we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” the office said in a statement.
In explaining the decision to drop the charges, Assistant State’s Attorney Joe Magats told The New York Times that “we work to prioritize violent crime and the drivers of violent crime. Public safety is our number one priority. I don’t see Jussie Smollett as a threat to public safety.”
“We stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him and we stand behind the charges in the case. The mere fact that it was disposed of in an alternative manner does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities in the case or the evidence,” Magats continued, saying the decision does not mean Smollett has been exonerated.
Holmes said Tuesday that Smollett had “forfeited” his bond, meaning the city would keep it.
Protesting the decision to drop the charges, an angry Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) called it a “whitewash of justice,” saying that Smollett’s $10,000 bond “doesn’t even come close to what the city spent in resources” to investigate Smollett’s attack.
He also argued that Smollett was being “let off scot-free” because of his fame.
“You cannot have, because of a person’s position, one set of rules apply to them, and another set of rules apply to everybody else,” Emanuel said, comparing it to the college admissions bribery scandal and calling Smollett’s attack “all in the name of self-promotion.”
Foxx recused herself from the Smollett investigation last month “out of an abundance of caution” based on her “familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” her office had said in a statement.
Text messages obtained by ABC 7 allegedly showed the Smollett family reached out to Foxx to say they were concerned about potential leaks in the investigation. The family wanted Foxx to ask Chicago police to hand over the investigation to the FBI, ABC 7 reported.
Smollett’s family said Tuesday that “he has been vindicated.”
“Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared,” the family said in a statement. “Jussie is a son, a brother, a partner, a champion for human rights, and a genuine soul who would never be capable of what he was falsely accused of. He was the victim of an assault and then falsely blamed for his own attack.”
In January, Smollett claimed that two men attacked him in Chicago, alleging that they shouted racist and homophobic slurs and wrapped a noose around him. But police later said the “Empire” actor hired the two men to stage the attack in order to obtain a pay raise.
Of the brothers whom Smollett allegedly hired, Holmes said Tuesday that “they attacked him,” and the $3,500 payment was for exercise and fitness training.
A Chicago Police Department representative told HuffPost “no comment” when asked about the charges being dropped and referred questions about the case to the Cook County State Attorney’s Office.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson claimed last month that there’s more evidence on the case than what’s been released to the public.
“There’s a lot more evidence that hasn’t been presented yet, and does not support the version he gave,” he told ABC’s Robin Roberts on Feb. 25. “There’s still a lot of physical evidence, video evidence and testimony that just simply does not support his version of what happened.”
On Tuesday, Johnson said he stood by the investigation.
“Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology,” Johnson said. “At the end of the day, it is Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period. If he wanted to clear his name, the way to do that is in a court of law so everyone can see the evidence.”
Smollett had been represented by celebrity attorney Mark Geragos. On Monday, Geragos was accused as an unnamed co-conspirator in a case involving attorney Michael Avenatti.
Following the initial charges, Fox, which airs “Empire,” said the show’s producers and writers had removed Smollett from the final two episodes of the season.
In a statement Tuesday, the network said: “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified on his behalf that all charges against him have been dismissed.”
This story has been updated with details from the Tuesday press conference and reactions from Fox, Emanuel, Magats and Johnson. Hayley Miller contributed reporting.