By Andrew Blankstein and Minyvonne Burke
In a stunning reversal, Chicago prosecutors on Tuesday dropped all charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett just weeks after he was indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly filing a false police report.
Smollett, 36, was seen arriving at a Chicago courtroom around 10:30 a.m. on Tuesday for an emergency hearing. Following his court appearance, his attorneys released a statement saying that the actor’s “record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him.”
“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 judgement,” the statement read.
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong. It is a reminder that a victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect. Dismissal of charges against the victim in this case was the only just result.”
During a brief news conference, Smollett said he has been “truthful” from the beginning.
“This has been an incredibly difficult time. Honestly, one of the worst of my life,” he said, adding that he’s ready to get back to his career and life.
Smollett was charged earlier this month by a grand jury of 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report, according to a criminal complaint.
In February, he was charged with felony disorderly conduct after Chicago officers said he orchestrated the alleged hate crime in January on himself because he was unhappy with his salary on the show “Empire.”
Smollett’s lawyer, Patricia Holmes, slammed the Chicago Police Department for their public handling of the case and said they should “not jump ahead and utilize the press to convict people before they are tried in the court of law.”
“Things seemed to spiral somewhat out of control,” she said.
Chicago Police Department commander Ed Wodnicki told NBC Chicago that the reversal of charges was a “punch in the gut” and prosecution did not discuss their decision with the police department prior to Tuesday’s announcement.
“We worked closely throughout our three-week investigation to get to point where we arrested the offender,” he said. “For the state’s attorney at this point to dismiss charges without discussing this with us at all is just shocking.”
As a result of the allegations against Smollett, his role on “Empire,” where he played Jamal Lyon, was cut from the final episodes of the fifth season “to avoid further disruption on set,” the show’s executive producers said in a joint statement on Feb. 22.
The producers have not yet commented on the new developments in the case, but 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment, the studio behind “Empire,” said in a statement they were “gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”
Smollett had told police on January 29 that he was beaten up by two masked men while he was out getting food in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood. The actor, who is black and gay, said his attackers hurled racist and homophobic slurs before punching him, putting a noose around his neck and pouring what he said was bleach on him.
Brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo were arrested in February as detectives investigated the alleged assault but were later released by police. They are not considered suspects. In a statement following the news of Smollett’s charges being dropped, the brothers’ legal team said they are “still reviewing all legal stuff.”
Smollett was labeled as a suspect in his own alleged assault and arrested in February. Prosecutors and police said Smollett allegedly paid the Osundairo brothers $3,500 via a check to attack him and also gave them money to buy the supplies they would need to carry out the hoax crime.
He was released from jail after posting $10,000 of his $100,000 bond. Smollett’s attorneys said Tuesday that the actor forfeited his bond over to the city of Chicago.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said Tuesday that after reviewing the case, Smollett’s community service and his willingness to turn his bond over to the city, “we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case.”
Smollett’s family celebrated the decision, saying in a statement that “truth has prevailed and he has been vindicated.”
“Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared,” the family said. “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.”
The actor and his attorneys have repeatedly denied the allegations against him. Mark Geragos, who represents Smollett, said in a statement to NBC News earlier this month that the indictment was “the prosecutorial overkill.”
“This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines in order to distract from the internal investigation launched to investigate the outrageous leaking of false information by the Chicago Police Department and the shameless and illegal invasion of Jussie’s privacy in tampering with his medical records,” Geragos said.