Tue | Oct 22, 2019

Special prosecutor named to look into Jussie Smollett case

Published:Friday | August 23, 2019 | 10:33 AM
In this March 26, 2019, file photo, actor Jussie Smollett smiles and waves to supporters before leaving Cook County Court after his charges were dropped in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty, File)

CHICAGO (AP) — A Chicago judge on Friday named a special prosecutor to look into why state prosecutors abruptly dropped charges against actor Jussie Smollett that accused him of staging a racist, anti-gay attack against himself.

Cook County Judge Michael Toomin’s appointment of former U.S. attorney Dan Webb raises the possibility that the special prosecutor could bring new charges against the former “Empire” actor. Smollett, who is black and gay, maintains that the January attack was real and wasn’t staged.

The Cook County state’s attorney’s office charged Smollett in February with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for purportedly orchestrating the incident.

However, it dropped all of the charges a month later with little explanation, angering city officials and the police.

A former state appellate judge, Sheila O’Brien, petitioned for a special prosecutor, leading to Toomin’s surprise ruling in June that one was warranted.

Smollett told police he was walking home early on Jan. 29 when two masked men approached him, made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said his assailants, at least one of whom he said was white, told him he was in “MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

Several weeks later, authorities alleged that Smollett had paid two black friends $3,500 to help him stage the attack because he was unhappy with his salary as an actor on “Empire” and wanted to drum up publicity for his career.

In his June ruling, Toomin suggested that the county’s state’s attorney, Kim Foxx, mishandled the Smollett case by appointing a top aide to oversee it after she recused herself.

Foxx had been in contact with a Smollett relative and was approached by former first lady Michelle Obama’s one-time chief of staff on behalf of Smollett’s family. Foxx explained at the time she was recusing herself to avoid “even the perception of a conflict” of interest.

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