Charges Dropped Against Jussie Smollett After He's Accused of Staging Hate Crime
All charges have been dropped against Empire actor Jussie Smollett stemming from accusations he staged an alleged early morning hate crime attack against himself on a Chicago sidewalk in January, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office confirms to PEOPLE.
“After reviewing all 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,” reads a statement from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office obtained by PEOPLE.
The office did not, however, fully retreat from its initial decision to bring charges against Smollett or otherwise address PEOPLE’s inquiry on whether prosecutors still believe he staged the attack, saying in a followup statement: “We stand by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation and our approval of charges.”
It was not immediately clear whether Smollett forfeited the $10,000 he put up to post bail or his full $100,000 bond.
Smollett’s attorneys, Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes, released a statement to PEOPLE saying, “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.”
The statement added, “Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was 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 judgment.”
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions,” it continued. “This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. This is wrong. It is a reminder that the victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result.”
Smollett ‘Adamantly’ Maintained Innocence
Smollett earlier had pleaded not guilty to allegations that he lied to police when he said he was attacked by two men in what authorities later claimed was a staged incident to draw attention to himself.
Smollett, 36, told police he’d been physically attacked on the street in his downtown Chicago neighborhood around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 by two black-clad, masked men who used racist and homophobic slurs, doused him with an “unknown chemical substance” and left him with a rope around his neck.
He was arrested Feb. 20 after an investigation, and indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports.
“To be perfectly honest, from the very beginning we had questions,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at a news conference after Smollett had been charged.
Smollett and his legal team previously said they had planned an “aggressive defense,” according to his attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson.
“Jussie adamantly maintains his innocence even if law enforcement has robbed him of that presumption,” his attorney, Mark Geragos, said in a statement released to PEOPLE after those indictments were announced.
Two brothers who were acquaintances of the actor, Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, later issued a public apology for their role in the allegedly staged incident, expressing “tremendous regret” for their actions, according to a statement from their attorney.
“My clients have tremendous regret over their involvement in this situation, and they understand how it has impacted people across the nation, particularly minority communities and especially those who have been victims of hate crimes themselves,” the statement read.
Their attorney later said the check they received was meant to cover both the attack and personal training services for Smollett. They also allegedly received $100 from Smollett to buy the ski masks, rope and gloves they were to use in the alleged attack.
The brothers have not been charged.
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The brothers had been seen on surveillance footage the night of the incident and later questioned by police, who arrested the men but soon released them after they admitted their alleged participation and pointed the blame back at Smollett.
Smollett Alleged 2 Men Shouted Racist, Homophobic and ‘Political Statements’
Interviewed at Northwestern Hospital after the alleged attack, Smollett claimed he’d been beaten by two men who shouted racial, homophobic and “political statements” at him, hung a noose around his neck, threw bleach at him and then fled on foot, police Commander Edward Wodnicki told reporters last month.
Police reviewed hundreds of hours of video from surveillance cameras in the area, starting with those focused on the street near the reported incident. The alleged attack itself was not captured, but police quickly obtained and shared images of two men “that we believed were the likely offenders,” he said.
Authorities were able, via surveillance video and witness accounts, to backtrack the men’s movements to a ride-share service whose pay account revealed their identities. Police then discovered that the two men had traveled to O’Hare airport and left the country using round-trip tickets to Nigeria, with a scheduled return to Chicago on Feb. 13.
The interim allowed police to issue more than 50 search warrants and subpoenas for phone and other records that showed the men had been in contact with Smollett — including one hour before the alleged attack, one hour afterward, and while they were out of the country, said Johnson.
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Police met and arrested the men upon their return. But after the men requested an attorney, Gloria Schmidt, “she came to us and after speaking with these two people of interest, she said that something smelled fishy,” said Wodnicki. “She came to me and said, ‘You really need to talk to these guys, I’m going to allow them to give you a video interview with us present and we’re going to have you hear their story. They are not offenders, they’re victims.’”
Wodnicki added: “It was at this time that this investigation started to spin in a completely new direction.”
If Smollett had been been tried and found guilty of falsifying a police report, the Class 4 felony carried a potential sentence of up to three years in prison.
After being arrested and quickly posting a bond that allowed his release from jail last month, Smollett returned to the Chicago set of Empire, the Fox drama in which he stars as main character Jamal Lyon.
Family: ‘Our Son and Brother Is an Innocent Man’
Smollett’s family released a statement Tuesday obtained by PEOPLE, which said: “Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared. 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.”
“This morning truth has prevailed and he has been vindicated,” the statement continued. “All charges have been dismissed and his record expunged (cleared). The painful incidents we’ve witnessed him endure over the past 7 weeks have been heartbreaking and unjust to say the least. While many were quick to rush to judgement before hearing the actual truth, we are grateful that the truth about Jussie has come to light. We look forward to bringing the real perpetrators to justice. We thank God and our village for standing by us during this trying time.”
FOX Entertainment and 20th Century FOX Television, which jointly produce Empire, also issued a statement saying, “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”