Special prosecutor investigating initial case against Jussie Smollett says state attorney’s office engaged in ‘substantial abuses’

Special prosecutor investigating initial case against Jussie Smollett says state attorney’s office engaged in ‘substantial abuses’
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A special prosecutor asked to investigate the initial resolution of the case against actor Jussie Smollett for making false reports of a hate crime to the Chicago Police Department determined last year that the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office and State Attorney Kim Foxx engaged in “substantial abuses” in the case.

Smollett was initially charged in a 16-count indictment in early March 2019, just over a month after the purported attack. Foxx recused herself from the case about a week later, days before charges were suddenly dropped. Amid criticism, Foxx asked for a special prosecutor to be appointed to investigate her office’s handling of the case.

The report released Monday alleged “abuses of “discretion and operational failures” by the office in prosecuting and resolving the initial case, false or misleading statements about the reason for the initial dismissal of charges, false or misleading statements about Foxx’s recusal from the case and by Foxx herself about when she stopped communicating with Smollett’s sister, Jurnee Smollett.

Foxx had three phone calls with Jurnee Smollett, multiple days after the state attorney was made aware that the actor was under investigation, the report said. She had falsely characterized those contacts to the media as occurring “while Mr. Smollett was a victim,” the report contends, despite being aware he had become a suspect.

An Illinois county judge signed off Monday on the release of the 59-page report from special prosecutor Daniel Webb’s investigation, which was concluded on August 17, 2020. Webb had requested the release, following Smollett’s conviction earlier this month.

In a statement, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office (CCSAO) said it disagreed with the findings of the Office of the Special Prosecutor (OSP).

“Though State’s Attorney Kim Foxx was not involved with the initial disposition of the Smollett case, she and the CCSAO remain 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. Finally, it is important to emphasize that the OSP did not find any criminal activity or undue influence on the part of the State’s Attorney or the CCSAO, the statement said.

Judge Michael Toomin had appointed Webb on August 23, 2019, to determine whether the former “Empire” actor should be further prosecuted after the initial punishment was believed by many to be “very favorable to Smollett,” according to Webb’s report. He was also asked to investigate if any person or office involved in the initial case “engaged in wrongdoing” or committed criminal offenses.

The investigation arose out of the unexpected decision by the CCSAO on March 26, 2019, to drop its initial 16 felony disorderly conduct charges against Smollett, saying the actor had agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond.

“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,” the state’s attorney’s office said at the time.

The punishment angered city officials as well as the Chicago Police Department, which had spent weeks investigating the alleged hate crime.

On February 11, 2020, a Cook County grand jury — at Webb’s request following his investigation — returned a six-count indictment against Smollett. He was convicted earlier this month.

‘Substantial abuses’ by the CCSAO, report says

As to the investigation into possible wrongdoing, Webb’s report said that while investigators did not find any evidence to support criminal charges against the CCSAO or Foxx for their conduct in the initial case, it did “develop evidence that establishes substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures by the CCSAO.”

The report said the evidence “may rise to the level of a violation of legal ethics by State’s Attorney Foxx and the CCSAO lawyers relating to false and/or misleading public statements made about the prosecution and resolution of the Initial Smollett Case.”

As a result, the special prosecutor said it would submit the report to the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission so that “it can do the appropriate review to determine if any ethical violations occurred.” CNN is reaching out to the commission for comment on whether it has taken any action since the report was drafted last year.

Investigators conducted “53 interviews, issuing more than 50 subpoenas and/or document requests,” and collected “more than 120,000 pages of documents (or, more than 26,000 documents), as well as text message data and audio recordings,” according to the report.

While a summary of Webb’s conclusions was released in August 2020, the full report details the evidence gathered by the investigators.

Smollett was found guilty earlier this month on five of six counts of felony disorderly conduct for making false reports to police that he was the victim of a hate crime in January 2019. He has yet to be sentenced.

The actor told police after the purported attack near downtown Chicago that he was subject to racist and homophobic slurs by two unknown men, who also poured bleach on him and wrapped a noose around his neck.

Authorities investigated the claims and determined the actor orchestrated the scheme.

After the verdict, his attorney Nenye Uche said he disagreed with the verdict and that Smollett was disappointed but confident it would be reversed on appeal.

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