ABOVE PHOTO: Jussie Smollett (Photo: Shutterstock)
By Amanda Seitz and Michael Tarm
CHICAGO — 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.
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.