Documents Suggest Prosecutors Quickly Changed Mind on Jussie Smollett Case

Documents released on Thursday suggested that just days after Jussie Smollett’s 16-count indictment, prosecutors in Chicago were thinking of settling his charges of staging a hate crime, deepening the mystery of why they so quickly changed their mind about the case.

Mr. Smollett, 36, had been accused of paying two acquaintances to stage an attack against himself in which they shouted racist and homophobic slurs and placed a noose around his neck. In the days after his indictment on Feb. 28, Chicago police detectives met with a prosecutor from the state’s attorney’s office to turn over materials related to the investigation, according to a detective’s report.

At that time, the detective wrote, the prosecutor told them that “she felt the case would be settled with Smollett paying the city of Chicago $10,000 in restitution and doing community service.” The report, which was among about 500 pages released on Thursday, did not say exactly when the meeting occurred but indicated it happened before March 11.

On March 26, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office formally dropped all 16 felony counts against him, saying that Mr. Smollett had agreed to forfeit the $10,000 bond paid for his release and that he was not a threat to public safety.

Chicago officials, including the mayor at the time, Rahm Emanuel, and the police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, denounced the move. Mr. Johnson said he had not been aware of the decision to drop charges until the day prosecutors did so, though the documents released on Thursday indicate that his detectives had known for at least two weeks that the case might soon be resolved.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office, Tandra Simonton, said it could not comment on grand jury proceedings, and she did not respond to a question about the timing of the decision to settle the case.

Many details about the Smollett case remained under wraps until last week, when a judge in Chicago ordered that his case file be unsealed, leaving open the possibility for revelations about why prosecutors decided to drop the case. The documents released on Thursday, which came from the police department, did not answer that question; the state’s attorney’s office is expected to release some of its own files in the coming days.

Much attention has been focused on the role of State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, the office’s top official. She said she had removed herself from the case because of earlier contact she had with representatives of Mr. Smollett, but previously released files showed that the day after the indictment, she sent a text message to a colleague saying that she thought her office was treating Mr. Smollett too harshly. There has been no evidence that she interceded to make her prosecutors end the case.

But her office’s decision to drop the charges led to tensions with the police department, which felt that the $10,000 forfeiture was too little a price to pay for the many hours detectives spent on the cases. Because the files released on Thursday came from the police, they do not provide the state’s attorney’s perspective on events. A spokesman for the police department, Anthony Guglielmi, said on Thursday that it stood by the detective’s report and would decline to comment further.

The city has since sued Mr. Smollett, seeking more than $130,000 to cover its investigative costs, in effect attempting to try the actor through the civil courts. Mr. Smollett has maintained his innocence.

In the meantime, the episode has put his entertainment career in limbo. He was a star on the Fox show “Empire,” but it is unclear if he will return for the show’s final season.

The documents also offered police accounts of what they described as Mr. Smollett’s shifting story of what happened on Jan. 29, the date he reported the attack. According to notes from a police interview with Mr. Smollett dated Feb. 14, he described one attacker as “pale” from what he could see through the face mask, pointing to the area above the bridge of his nose as he spoke with the authorities. The police then reminded Mr. Smollett, according to the notes, that he had previously described the attacker as being white.

Mr. Smollett then said he had “assumed they were white due to the comments that were made,” the notes said. Mr. Smollett, who is black and gay, had reported to the police that the attackers had shouted racist and homophobic slurs and shouted, “This is MAGA country!,” a reference to President Trump’s campaign slogan.

The police eventually picked up Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, brothers who worked as extras on “Empire.” According to the notes of the police interview, Mr. Smollett was shown photos of the brothers and replied that they could not be the attackers because they were “black as sin.”

A lawyer for Mr. Smollett, Mark Geragos, declined on Thursday to address the police accounts of his descriptions of his attackers. The lawyer pointed to witness accounts included in the police file that he said corroborate Mr. Smollett’s story, including an interview with a woman who saw a white man with what appeared to be a rope underneath his jacket in the area of the reported attack.

The police said that the brothers told them that Mr. Smollett hired them to stage the assault for a payment of $3,500, with the promise of $500 later. The files also reflected correspondence dating back months in which Mr. Smollett discussed buying drugs through the brothers.

The police also accused Smollett of mailing a threatening letter to himself at the Chicago facility where “Empire” films.

According to the documents, the two brothers told the police that Mr. Smollett was dissatisfied with how the “Empire” studio had responded to the threatening letter, in which they say they played no role. The police had previously said that Mr. Smollett planned the attack because he was unhappy with his salary on “Empire.”

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