Chicago prosecutor defends dropping charges in Jussie Smollett case

(Reuters) – Chicago’s top prosecutor said on Wednesday that her office believed actor Jussie Smollett “culpable” in the criminal case where police say he staged being the victim of a hate crime attack but said her office never intended to seal the court records.

But Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, whose office has come under criticism for abruptly and secretly dropping the charges against Smollett, in an interview with local ABC7-TV side-stepped questions over whether she personally believed he was guilty.

“I think this office, based on (the) charging decisions, believed that he is culpable of doing that,” Foxx said, referring to accusations that he staged the attack and lied to police.

Smollett, who is black and gay, ignited a firestorm on social media by telling police on Jan. 29 that two apparent supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump struck him, put a noose around his neck and poured bleach over him.

The 36-year-old actor, best known for his role on the Twentieth Century Fox Television hip-hop drama “Empire,” was charged in February with staging the incident himself and filing a false police report.

On Tuesday, prosecutors suddenly dropped all charges against Smollett. The case file was sealed by a Chicago judge, further angering critics.

“The court file was not supposed to be sealed. I think what happened was the clerk sealed the whole thing,” Foxx told ABC7. “We … do not believe that the court file should be sealed. We believe in transparency, even on difficult situations.”

Foxx recused herself from the case before charges were filed against Smollett because of conversations she had about the incident with one of Smollett’s relatives, according to her spokesman.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel told ABC News on Wednesday in a separate interview that he wanted “get to the bottom,” of what happened in the Smollett case, adding that the actor “abused” the city of Chicago by claiming to have been vindicated.

“The state’s attorney’s office is saying he’s not exonerated, he actually did commit this hoax,” Emanuel said in the ABC interview. “He’s saying he’s innocent and his words are true. They better get their stories straight, because this is making fools of all us.”

The Chicago Police Department released what it said were all its records from the case on Wednesday, totaling 61 pages, with some names and other personal details redacted.

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On Tuesday, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson also criticized the prosecutor’s decision, saying it did not serve justice.

Smollett had pleaded not guilty to the charges, and told reporters on Tuesday he had been “truthful and consistent” in maintaining his innocence.

His lawyers said he hopes to move on with his acting career, but it remains unclear whether he will return to “Empire” after being written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen in New York and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot, Richard Chang and Lisa Shumaker

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