UPDATE with State’s Attorney statement A visibly angry Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson dismissed Jussie Smollett’s latest insistence on his innocence and decried the prosecutors’ dismissal of criminal charges against the Empire actor as, in Emanuel’s words, “a whitewash.”
Johnson said, as bluntly as he has before, that Smollett conducted a “hoax” to further his own financial gain.
Emanuel lambasted Smollett as selfishly exploiting hate-crime laws for his own personal gain. “He took those laws and turned them inside out and upside down,” the mayor said, repeatedly reminding reporters that a grand jury heard the case and brought the charges against Smollett.
“Do I think justice was served?,” asked Johnson. “No. And I think this city is still owed an apology.”
Earlier, the State’s Attorneys office attempted to clarify its decision to drop criminal charges against Smollett, releasing a statement reading, “After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollet’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 did little to clarify anything, though. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Magats, First Assistant State’s Attorney, said, “The bottom line is, we stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him. The fact that [Smollett] feels that we have exonerated him, we have not. I can’t make it any clearer than that.”
Anthony Guglielmi, chief communications office for the Chicago Police Department, tweeted this today:
In a remarkably scathing assessment of both Smollett and the Illinois state attorney’s office that today dismissed all criminal charges against the actor stemming from the alleged hate crime that Emanuel and Johnson continue to insist was a hoax, the two men agreed that justice has not been served. Johnson said that Smollett and his lawyers have chosen to “hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system.”
In addition to the dropping of charges, Smollett’s record was expunged and the case permanently sealed. If he had been convicted on all 16 counts, he would have faced nearly 50 years in prison.
The Emanuel-Johnson press conference followed by an hour a press conference by Smollett and his lawyer (read about that here). Both the police superintendent and, especially, the mayor appeared furious over the prosecution deal.
“He did this all in the name of self-promotion,” Emanuel said of Smollett. “This is a whitewash of justice. A grand jury could not have been clearer. Where is the accountability in the system?”
The mayor — who served as President Obama’s first chief of staff — repeatedly suggested that Smollett benefitted from his “position and background,” apparently referring to his celebrity and wealth At one point, he even compared the situation to the recent Varsity Blues university scandal involving Felicity Huffman and Lori Laughlin.
Regarding Smollett’s forfeiture of a $10,000 bond, Emanuel said the amount “doesn’t even come close to what the city spent in resources” while investigating the case.
Emanuel said the “ethical cost” was even greater than the financial cost. “To use the very laws and principles and values behind the Matthew Shepard [hate crime laws] to self-promote your career is a cost that comes to all the individuals, gay men and women, who will now be doubted” when reporting hate crimes, Emanuel said.
“Our city’s reputation was dragged through the mud,” the mayor said.
Smollett was indicted March 8 on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly hiring Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, Nigerian brothers who are acquaintances of Smollett, to stage a racist and homophobic hate crime attack outside a Subway restaurant. Smollett, who is black and gay, was accused by police of devising the hoax to gain attention and a salary raise for his role on Fox’s Empire.
Last month, Smollett pleaded not guilty to the charges, and today a Cook County Circuit judge ordered the case sealed following a five-minute hearing in which all criminal charges were dropped. Smollett’s attorneys told reporters that the dismissal was not the result of any sort of plea deal.
Speaking to reporters with Emanuel, Johnson said, “If you want to say that you’re innocent of a situation, then you take your day in court. … If someone falsely accused me, I would never hide behind a brokered deal and secrecy.”
Taking his turn at the mics, the mayor said: “This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you are in a position of influence and power, you’ll get treated one way and other people will be treated another way. There is no accountability in the system. It is wrong, full stop.”
Repeatedly accusing Smollett of misusing hate crime legislation, Emanuel said at one point, “Is there no decency in this man?”