A total of 16 criminal charges against the Empire actor Jussie Smollett were dropped on Tuesday, surprising many people – including Chicago’s mayor – and raising a series of questions as to what actually happened.
Smollett had been accused of faking a hate crime by paying two brothers to attack him. The actor claimed they’d shouted racial slurs and told him: “This is Maga country” – apparently a reference to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan – as they beat him up.
The case file has now been sealed, only adding to the confusion about exactly what happened and why. Here we try to unpack the details of what we know:
What happened on Tuesday?
Cook county prosecutors abruptly announced they would not prosecute Smollett.
“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,” Cook county state’s attorney’s office said.
People quickly noticed that prosecutors had not actually cleared Smollett of wrongdoing. In fact Joe Magats, first assistant state’s attorney, said: “We believe [Smollett] did what he was charged with doing.”
How did other authorities react?
Both Chicago’s mayor and police department are furious and left little doubt they believe in Smollett’s guilt, or at least that he should be tried.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the dropping of the charges was a “whitewash of justice”.
“This is a person now who’s been let off scot-free with no sense of accountability,” Emanuel said. “Is there no decency to this man?”
The Chicago police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, was similarly displeased.
“Do I think justice was served? No,” Johnson said during a press conference. “At the end of the day … it’s Mr Smollett who committed this hoax.”
What’s Smollett saying?
On Wednesday his attorney claimed the two brothers said to have attacked him – whom Smollett was accused of having conspired with – were lying about having coordinated the beating.
Tina Glandian told Good Morning America on Wednesday she and Smollett were “shocked” at the mayor and police’s criticism. She did not address the ($10,000) bond Cook county had retained from Smollett, or why prosecutors saw fit to mention the actor’s volunteer service.
Smollett himself said 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’ve been accused,” he added.
Will Smollett be returning to TV?
It seems so. Fox Entertainment, which produces Empire said: “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”
The writers of the show seemed happy too, posting a series of supportive tweets.
Is this the end of the saga?
Glandian, Smollett’s lawyer, didn’t rule out Smollett filing a lawsuit against Chicago police. “We’re weighing our options,” she said on Good Morning America.
The Chicago police union is calling for a federal investigation of the Cook county state’s attorney, Kim Foxx, “to determine the extent of her involvement with the Jussie Smollett case”, according to CNN. Text messages obtained by CNN showed Foxx was in communication with a Smollett family friend after the alleged attack. Foxx later recused herself from the investigation.
Meanwhile a federal investigation into whether Smollett played a role in sending a racist and homophobic letter to himself – before the alleged attack – is ongoing, ABC News reported.