"Empire" star Jussie Smollett, who had been accused by Chicago Police of falsely reporting a hate crime, has been cleared of all charges, following an emergency hearing in his case in the Windy City on Tuesday morning.
Smollett's attorneys announced the surprise decision, revealing that local prosecutors decided to drop the charges against the actor, and telling reporters that "his record has been wiped clean." CBS Chicago also reported that a judge granted a motion to seal the records in the case.
Last month, Smollett was charged with 16 felony counts stemming from an incident on January 29, in which the actor said he had been attacked by two men, who shouted racial and homophobic slurs. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, said the men also poured an unknown substance -- believed to be bleach -- on him, and tied a noose around his neck.
But Chicago Police expressed skepticism at Smollett's version of events, eventually charging him with falsely reporting a hate crime, and publicly condemning him in the media. They arrested two brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, who said that Smollett paid them to carry out the attack, and police accused Smollett of seeking fame and a higher paycheck from "Empire" as motives for the incident.
Smollett pleaded not guilty to those charges, and maintained his innocence from the beginning. In a statement released on Tuesday, the actor's attorneys, Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes, praised the decision to drop the case, though they were highly critical of local authorities, who they accused of leaking information to the media and trying Smollett in the court of public opinion before they had all the facts.
Their statement said:
"Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his 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."
"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.
"Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends and career."
The Cook County State's Attorney's Office also released a statement announcing the dismissal, revealing that part of its decision to end the case stemmed from Smollett's stellar reputation in the Chicago community, and his agreement to forfeit the $10,000 bond he posted as bail as a donation to the city. Their full statement said:
"After reviewing all of 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, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case."
No further explanation for the dismissal was given.
Speaking to reporters outside court on Tuesday, Smollett said he felt vindicated by the decision, and again insisted he had told the truth about the attack. The actor said:
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain, I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly one of the worst of my entire life, but I am a man of a faith and I am a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives, or the movement through a fire like this. I just wouldn’t,” he said.
“I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistakes I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality, and betterment of marginalized people everywhere.”
In the wake of the charges against Smollett, "Empire" decided to remove the actor from the final episodes of the show's fifth season, in an effort to "avoid further disruption on set." Fox -- the network that airs the series -- has so far declined to comment on the developments in the case. It remains to be seen if anything will change regarding Smollett's future on the show.