Jussie Smollett Indicted Again in Attack That Police Called a Hoax - The Naija Weekly

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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Jussie Smollett Indicted Again in Attack That Police Called a Hoax

A grand jury in Chicago revived the criminal case against the actor Jussie Smollett, indicting him Tuesday on charges that he lied to the police in connection with the alleged hate crime attack against him a year ago. The indictment came 11 months after prosecutors dropped similar charges against him.

The new charges were announced by a special prosecutor, Dan K. Webb, who was assigned to the case after a judge ruled that the Cook County state’s attorney, Kim Foxx, had not properly handled it the first time.

In a rebuke to Ms. Foxx’s office, Mr. Webb criticized the decision by her prosecutors to abruptly drop the case, saying in a news release that his review of the record showed that her office had believed it had strong evidence against Mr. Smollett. Mr. Webb said the state’s attorney’s office had not offered any evidence showing that it had gained new information indicating Mr. Smollett’s innocence, nor any documentation that similar cases had been handled the same way.

Mr. Webb said that he had not reached any conclusions about whether prosecutors engaged in wrongdoing and that he was continuing to investigate.

Mr. Smollett, 37, was charged last February with filing a false police report after the Chicago police concluded that he had paid two brothers to stage an attack on him in which they shouted homophobic and racial slurs and yelled, “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s 2016 campaign slogan. The police said Mr. Smollett was looking for publicity because he was unhappy with his salary on the television show “Empire,” which dropped him from the cast after his arrest.

The new indictment charges Mr. Smollett with six counts of disorderly conduct related to false statements to Chicago police officers. Five of the counts were related to accounts Mr. Smollett gave police the morning of Jan. 29, 2019, when he said the attack occurred; and one was related to a statement he made on Feb. 14, around when the police started to view Mr. Smollett as a suspect.

In a statement, Tina Glandian, a lawyer for Mr. Smollett, noted that he is in litigation with the Chicago Police Department, and raised questions about whether it was fair for Mr. Webb to partly base his investigation on evidence from that department. She highlighted the fact that Mr. Webb’s office said it had not yet found evidence of wrongdoing on the part of the prosecutors.

“The attempt to re-prosecute Mr. Smollett one year later on the eve of the Cook County State’s Attorney election is clearly all about politics not justice,” she said in the statement.

Ms. Foxx is running for re-election and faces a Democratic primary next month in which her opponents have criticized her management of the Smollett case. Her campaign issued a statement on Tuesday denouncing the “James Comey-like timing” of the new charges, referring to the former F.B.I. director’s public pronouncements about the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server just before she lost to Mr. Trump.

Mr. Webb’s decision to seek charges “can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive,” the statement read.

Mr. Smollett’s case transfixed the country for weeks last year, first after reports that he had been the victim of a bigoted attack, eliciting messages of support from politicians, celebrities and civil rights groups. When the police revealed that Mr. Smollett was being investigated for possibly orchestrating the attack, the tone shifted.

The president’s supporters seized on the case as a hollow attempt to demonize them as racists. In October, Mr. Trump told a gathering of police chiefs in Chicago that Mr. Smollett’s report of being attack was “a scam, just like the impeachment of your president.”

The police had built a case based on surveillance camera footage, interviews with the brothers, text exchanges between the men and Mr. Smollett, and a check he had given them. None of the text exchanges explicitly mentioned a staged attack, and Mr. Smollett maintained that the money was to hire the brothers to physically train him for an upcoming video.

Last March, just a month after his arrest, the state’s attorney’s office dropped the charges against him, explaining that Mr. Smollett was not a threat to public safety and that he had a record of service to the community. He agreed to forfeit the $10,000 bond that had released him from jail.

The office’s decision angered some officials in Chicago, including the police superintendent and the mayor at the time, Rahm Emanuel, and the city later sued Mr. Smollett for more than $130,000 it said it had spent investigating his claim of being attacked. Mr. Webb said that part of the rationale for reopening the prosecution was the resources expended by the police department while investigating his reports.

Ms. Foxx had removed herself from the Smollett case early in the investigation, saying publicly that it was because she had earlier contact with representatives of Mr. Smollett when the police still considered him a victim. Ms. Foxx handed the case to her deputy, leading to some criticism that she had not formally recused herself under state law.

A retired judge who objected to Ms. Foxx’s handling of the case asked that a special prosecutor be appointed, and a judge agreed, saying that Ms. Foxx should have handed the case to someone outside her office. Mr. Webb, a former United States attorney for Chicago and a special counsel during the Iran-contra affair, was tasked with looking into Ms. Foxx’s decisions and determining whether further charges against Mr. Smollett were warranted.

The actor was not arrested on Tuesday, but is due in court on the charges on Feb. 24.


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