Chicago mayor demands answers after Jussie Smollett hoax charges dropped

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants answers after prosecutors abruptly dropped charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a hoax hate crime to boost his career.

CHICAGO (REUTERS) - Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel said on Wednesday (March 27) he wanted to "find out what happened" to cause prosecutors to abruptly drop charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging a hoax hate crime to boost his career.

The saga began in January when the actor, who is black and gay, said two men had attacked him on a Chicago street, putting a noose around his neck and shouting racist and homophobic slurs.

Prosecutors on Feb 21 accused him of paying two brothers, Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, US$3,500 (S$4,700) to carry out an attack they called a hoax to advance his career but abruptly dropped the charges on Tuesday.

"Let's get to the bottom of this," Emanuel said in an ABC News interview. "Let's find out what happened."

Emanuel said Smollett had "abused" the city of Chicago, a day after the actor walked out of court saying he had been vindicated in insisting he had not staged a racist assault against him in January.

Smollett, who plays a gay musician on Fox's hip-hop TV drama Empire, had been charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct alleging he gave false accounts of an attack on him to police investigators.

On Tuesday, the Cook County State's Attorney's office said it stood by its accusation against Smollett but was dropping all the charges, saying the actor's prior community service and his agreeing to forfeit his US$10,000 bond was a just outcome.

"The state's attorney's office is saying he's not exonerated, he actually did commit this hoax," Emanuel said in the ABC interview. "He's saying he's innocent and his words are true. They better get their stories straight, because this is making fools of all us."

Chicago's chief prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, defended her office's decision in an interview with WBEZ on Wednesday as proportionate to the charges.

 
 

Foxx had recused herself from the case prior to Smollett's being charged because of conversations she had about the incident with one of Smollett's relatives, according to her spokesman.

"There's some people who were never gonna be satisfied unless Mr. Smollett spent many nights in prison, and then there were others who believed that the charging of 16 counts of disorderly conduct was excessive," she said in the interview.

She said the charges Smollett faced were unlikely to have led to a prison sentence if he had been convicted.

"What I can tell you is that most people who come through the criminal justice system don't give up US$10,000 of their hard-earned money, or engage in volunteer services connected with an alleged offense, without viewing that as a way of being held accountable," she said.

Smollett initially earned widespread sympathy from celebrities and some Democratic presidential candidates over his account of the alleged assault.

The Chicago Police Department released what it said were all its records from the case on Wednesday, totalling 61 pages, with some names and other personal details redacted.

The records conformed with the information included in court filings, including summaries of interviews with the Osundairo brothers who said Smollett gave them a US$3,500 cheque and US$100 in cash to buy the rope, ski masks, gloves and red baseball caps used in the attack.

On Tuesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson also criticised the prosecutor's decision, saying it did not serve justice.

Smollett had pleaded not guilty to the charges, and told reporters on Tuesday he had been "truthful and consistent" in maintaining his innocence.

His lawyers said he hopes to move on with his acting career, but it remains unclear whether he will return to Empire after being written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season.