Jussie Smollett legal team: Prosecutors flip-flopping on why they dropped charges

Aamer Madhani

CHICAGO – “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s legal team on Wednesday lashed out at prosecutors, arguing the Cook County State’s Attorney has “flip-flopped” in its comments about their client after agreeing to drop charges against the actor.

Prosecutors announced Tuesday they were dropping disorderly conduct charges against Smollett for filing a false police report, less than three weeks after the actor was indicted on charges that he paid two men to stage a hoax attack to make him look like the victim of a hate crime.

As part of the arrangement, Smollett agreed to forfeit to the city of Chicago $10,000 in bond money he put up to secure his release after he was arrested.

Smollett’s legal team is taking offense with comments to the media by Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office officials, saying prosecutors and police are "continuing their campaign" against the actor. Prosecutors said they’ve dropped the charges, but insist that doesn't mean Smollett was exonerated of wrongdoing.

“We respectfully request all government agencies involved live up to the ethical tenants of their office, state and local law, Supreme Court Rules on Trial Publicity as well as the Rules of Professional Responsibility for lawyers and prosecutors,” Smollett attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said in a statement. “We will not try this case in a court of public opinion. There is no case to try. The case was dismissed. We should all allow Mr. Smollett to move on with his life as a free citizen.”

Smollett’s legal team pointed to comments that Joseph Magats, the first assistant state’s attorney, made to the Chicago Tribune and CBS News in which he asserts that Smollett was not exonerated and that the case was akin to alternative prosecution for an offender with a short criminal history.

"The bottom line is we stand behind the investigation, we stand behind the decision to charge him,” Magats said. “The fact that (Smollett) feels that we have exonerated him, we have not. I can’t make it any clearer than that.”

In the CBS News interview, Magats said his office sometimes chooses to “defer or do alternative prosecutions.”

Holmes noted that Magats' media comments were far different than what Assistant State’s Attorney Risa Lanier told Judge Steven Watkins in a short hearing Tuesday where prosecutors formally dropped the charges.

“After reviewing 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, the State’s motion in regards to the indictment is nolle pros,” said Lanier, using the legal term for dropping charges. “We believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”

Smollett’s legal team also slammed police for releasing police reports regarding the case to multiple media outlets Wednesday after prosecutors agreed to seal the court file.

The reports include Smollett’s address and other information that was widely disseminated prior to Wednesday’s court hearing.

Anthony Guglielmi, the chief police department spokesman, said the department released the Smollett police reports in response to Freedom of Information Act requests Wednesday morning. Police department officials were advised of the court order by the State’s Attorney’s office later in the day, and received a formal directive Wednesday afternoon to cease releasing the records.

The decision to suddenly drop the charges was met with sharp criticism by police officials and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson that he and his aides were given no forewarning by the prosecutor’s office that they were dropping charges against Smollett.

Police and prosecutors say Smollett paid two brothers, Abel and Ola Osundairo, $3,500 to stage an attack on Smollett near his apartment building in Chicago’s swanky Streeterville neighborhood, in which he was made to look like the victim of a vicious hate crime.

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Police identified Smollett as a victim of an attack for weeks after the incident. The case shifted gears after the Osundairo brothers, who were on the cusp of being charged by police, told investigators that they worked with Smollett to carry out the attack.

The brothers told detectives Smollett hoped to use the incident to raise his profile and salary, Johnson said.

Emanuel continued his criticism of the prosecutor’s office on Wednesday for their handling of the case.

“There is something rotten in Denmark,” Emanuel told USA TODAY, paraphrasing the famous line from Shakespeare’s "Hamlet." “It doesn’t add up. … I don’t get it.

“People better get their stories straight,” Emanuel said of the State’s Attorney’s office. “We’re all owed a sense of accountability by the system.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jussie Smollett legal team: Prosecutors flip-flopping on why they dropped charges