Jussie Smollett may have had the criminal charges related to his alleged staged hate crime dropped, but the “Empire” star may still face both federal charges and civil lawsuits related to the scandal.
On Tuesday, the Cook County State’s Attorney dropped 16 felony counts against the actor stemming from his allegedly filing a false police report about a hate attack he claimed to have suffered on Jan. 29.
Smollett, 36, told police he was attacked by two masked men as he was walking home from a Chicago Subway sandwich shop at approximately 2 a.m. Smollett alleged that the masked men beat him, taunted him with homophobic and racial slurs and yelled “This is MAGA country.”
Police later determined that Smollett’s masked assailants were brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, who authorities also identified as being the men seen on surveillance video purchasing the rope that was hung around Smollett’s neck during the alleged attack. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told the press at the time that the brothers were cooperating with authorities and the investigation was pivoting from a hate crime investigation into a case of false reporting, transforming Smollett from an alleged victim in the case into a suspect.
Smollett pleaded not guilty and maintained his innocence throughout the case.
After news of Smollett’s dropped charges was reported Tuesday, First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told press that he still believes Smollett filed a false police report and that prosecutors in the case “stand behind the investigation and the facts … this was not an exoneration.”
Smollett reportedly performed community service and voluntarily forfeited his $10,000 bond, Magats said, making it a “fair and just outcome” for the case — even though that outcome infuriated the Chicago Police and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Though he escaped criminal charges, the legal fallout may not be over for Smollett.
Los Angeles based criminal attorney Alaleh Kamran explained that Smollett may still face civil repercussions for allegedly filing a false police report.
“At this point, all that’s happened is the state is telling us they’re not going to prosecute him on criminal charges, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be civil lawsuits going both ways. Jussie can sue the complaining witnesses, the complaining witnesses can sue him,” Kamran told People on Tuesday. “I’m sure there will be lawsuits because there’s damages. Jussie’s career has been destroyed, his name and reputation has been dragged through the mud, I would be surprised if he does not pull some kind of civil action to, at the minimum, clear his name.”
Smollett also may still face federal charges of mail fraud, as the FBI is investigating whether or not he also sent himself hate mail laced with white powder a week before the alleged attack occurred. If convicted, Smollett could face up to a decade in prison.
Fox News correspondent Judge Andrew Napolitano said that dropping charges in a case like this is “almost unheard of” and offered two possible explanations for alternatives: “Either because the government could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt notwithstanding the evidence it has, or because it decided to grant Smollett what’s called a ‘deferred prosecution,’ which means a short period of probation, at the end of which the charges would be dismissed.” A deferred prosecution would also expunge Smollett’s record at the end of the probationary period.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is also considering suing the actor to recoup some of the money the city wasted on the lengthy investigation, according to reports.
However, Smollett’s attorney, Patricia Brown-Holmes, said in a press conference Tuesday that it was not a deferred prosecution and that the records in the case were sealed.