An Illinois prosecutor said he believes Jussie Smollett is guilty of staging a racist and homophobic attack against himself despite his decision to drop the charges against the “Empire” actor on Tuesday.
“I do not believe he is innocent,” First Assistant Cook County State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told CBS News on Tuesday afternoon after Smollett’s legal team announced Magats’ office had dismissed the charges.
Asked if he believes Smollett is guilty, Magats said “yes.” He confirmed that dropping the charges, which included 16 felony counts of staging the January attack and lying to officials, neither “vindicates” nor “exonerates” Smollett.
“Our priority is violent crimes and the drivers of violence. Jussie Smollett is neither one of those,” Magats told CBS News when asked why his office would abandon the case if he felt the actor was guilty.
The Cook County State Attorney’s Office suddenly dropped all the charges against Smollett on Tuesday, setting social media ablaze and prompting angry responses from Chicago officials.
Though Magats and the Chicago Police Department say Smollett is guilty, the actor has repeatedly maintained that he was the victim of a brutal hate crime and denies his involvement.
“All criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him,” Smollett’s lawyers said in a statement Tuesday, continuing to maintain that their client was “a victim.”
Smollett performed two days of community service this week and was forced to forfeit a $10,000 bond ― a fraction of the more than $150,000 it reportedly cost the city to pursue this case.
Asked Tuesday if he feels this penalty was appropriate, Magats told CBS News that he feels “it is,” adding that community service and a financial penalty is common for nonviolent cases.
In January, Smollett, who is gay and black, claimed that two men viciously attacked him in Chicago, alleging they shouted racist and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and wrapped a noose around his neck. But investigators later said he hired the two men to stage the attack in order to obtain a pay raise.
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson last month said there’s “a lot more evidence” to prove Smollett staged the attack and lied about it than what’s been released to the public. He stood by his department’s assessment of the case during a press conference Tuesday.
“Do I think justice was served? No,” Johnson said. “What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology.”
He added: “At the end of the day, it is Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period. If he wanted to clear his name, the way to do that is in a court of law so everyone can see the evidence.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.