Prosecutors: Smollett Got 'Alternative Disposition,' Not Exoneration

Steve Miller
March 26, 2019 - 4:53 pm

(Associated Press)

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) – Cook County prosecutors went into damage-control mode Tuesday and defended their decision to end the criminal case against actor Jussie Smollett, characterizing it as an “alternative disposition” – not an exoneration.

The “Empire” co-star and musician had been charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself early this year in downtown Chicago. Police said Smollett, who is black and openly gay, sought attention and sympathy.

The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office said Smollett agreed to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city of Chicago. Some 5,700 cases have been referred to these kinds of alternative prosecutions over the past two years, the office said.

“We did not exonerate Mr. Smollett," the statement said.

Smollett and his attorneys, however, appeared to couch the conclusion to the case differently – with Smollett as a vindicated victim.

"I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of," Smollett told reporters outside the courtroom.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at an event with Police Supt. Eddie Johnson, was livid at the news Smollett was off the hook for allegedly setting in motion a fake hate-crime investigation. He called it a "whitewash of justice." 

First Assistant State's Attorney Joe Magats, who handled the case, disagreed with the mayor.

Related: Charges Dropped Against Actor Jussie Smollett

"I can't comment as to what he thinks or what he knows," Magats told WBBM Newsradio in one of several interviews he gave Tuesday. "It was not a whitewash of justice. We looked at this case as we would other cases, other disorderly conduct cases, other cases where people have made false police reports to the Chicago Police Department and went from there. To handle it differently, or to not look at it in this vein, would have been to handle it differently than we do in other cases." 

Earlier Tuesday, the state's attorney's office issued a comparatively terse statement that generated more questions than it answered. The office followed up with a more detailed statement later in the day that offered more clarity. 

Magats insisted justice had been served: "Yes, based on all the facts and circumstances, this was the right outcome on the case. I certainly get other people feeling differently, I certainly understand that other people disagree. In the end, this was the right result."

He said he's not worried about potential political fallout.

"I've been here 29 years as a career prosecutor. Every decision that has been made in this office is always subject to political fallout in the views of the public and the people out there. We don't try our cases in the media, we do not lick our finger, stick our hand in the wind and say, 'Hey, this is which way the wind is blowing.'" 

State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the case.