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CHICAGO (AP) — The initial handling of allegations that former “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett had staged a fake attack in Chicago represented a “major failure of operations” by the local prosecutor’s office, according to a lawyer who was appointed to review the case.
The 68-page report released Monday detailed multiple instances of false statements by State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and others in her office in 2019, when they first prosecuted Smollett before abruptly dropping the charges weeks later.
Some of her office’s actions may be violations of legal ethics, special prosecutor Dan Webb concluded, though he found nothing criminal.
Smollett, who is Black and gay, was recently convicted of lying to police in January 2019 about what he said was a racist, homophobic attack. Webb, who took over the case, said Smollett staged the attack to get publicity. Smollett is expected to be sentenced in 2022.
Webb released a portion of the report, including its major conclusions, in 2020. The full report released Monday documents interviews with Foxx, dozens of employees in her office, Chicago police officers and friends and family members of Smollett.
Foxx had recused herself from the Smollett case before it was dropped. She told Webb’s team that she was surprised when all 16 counts against Smollett were dropped, and that she believed he should have been required to admit some wrongdoing.
Foxx also said she believed prosecutors in her office “wanted to get this guy out of town” because of the media attention that accompanied the case.
Foxx later said in a media statement that the case was dropped just like thousands of other similar cases, which Webb concluded was not true.
“The fact that such a significant mischaracterization could be asserted without sufficient vetting … is unacceptable for an office that must be transparent and maintain public confidence,” Webb’s report states.
Webb also found that Foxx improperly changed her public position about the strength of the evidence against Smollett. After calling the case against him “strong,” she wrote in a Chicago Tribune editorial shortly after the charges were dropped that securing a conviction was “uncertain.” That pivot was “false and misleading,” Webb concluded.
In response last Monday, the state’s attorney’s office said it remains “steadfast that the office acted within its broad prosecutorial discretion.”
“A prosecutor’s discretion is as broad as any in the law, and differences of opinion as to how a case was handled do not signify an abuse of discretion,” the statement said.
Webb also pursued the investigation against Smollett, and a grand jury in 2020 indicted him on new charges of lying to police. A jury convicted the 39-year-old earlier this month on five of six counts of disorderly conduct, a low-level felony.
Smollett has maintained his innocence, and his attorney said they will appeal the conviction.
Judge Michael Toobin, who appointed Webb as special prosecutor, said the full report should be made public now that Smollett’s trial is complete.