At an event hosted by the Reverend Jesse Jackson last weekend, Cook County Prosecutor Kim Foxx held the line on her office’s decision to dismiss charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett, whom Chicago Police say orchestrated a hate-crime hoax in January.
As Page Six reports, Foxx gave a press conference at the Saturday Rainbow PUSH Coalition event, emphasizing that the 36-year-old actor didn’t receive special treatment. Instead, she likened the dismissal to that of thousands of other low-level defendants (also known as “deferred prosecutions”). Chicago’s top prosecutor—who has weathered a storm of criticism from city officials and police, some of whom have called for her to resign—also spoke about the role race may have played in the backlash.
“I have been asking myself for the last two weeks what is this really about,” Foxx said. “As someone who has lived in this city, who came up in the projects of this city to serve as the first African American woman in this role, it is disheartening to me … that when we get in these positions, somehow the goalposts change.”
Her comments at the press conference recall an earlier op-ed Foxx published in the Chicago Tribune late last month, in which she said she’d welcome an independent investigation of the controversial case.
“[Smollett] has not been exonerated; he has not been found innocent,” Foxx wrote, before laying out the reasons her office chose not to prosecute (Foxx said she was not involved in any decision-making around the case, citing her familiarity with potential witnesses).
“In determining whether or not to pursue charges, prosecutors are required to balance the severity of the crime against the likelihood of securing a conviction,” Foxx wrote for the Tribune. “For a variety of reasons, including public statements made about the evidence in this case, my office believed the likelihood of securing a conviction was not certain.”
“Another key factor is that the crime here was a Class 4 felony, the least serious category, which also covers things like falsely pulling a fire alarm in school and ‘draft card mutilation,’” she continued. “These felonies are routinely resolved, particularly in cases involving suspects with no prior criminal record, long before a case ever nears a courtroom and often without either jail time or monetary penalties.”
Last Friday, Chicago’s police union demanded Foxx resign, holding a “no confidence” vote against the reform-minded prosecutor because of her office’s decision to throw out the 16-count indictment. While the charges against Smollett were dropped, the actor forfeited his $10,000 bond payment. The City of Chicago set a deadline for the actor to pay an additional $130,000 back to the city last week, citing the money Smollett cost Chicago PD in overtime investigating the alleged racist and homophobic hate crime.
Smollett’s legal team refused to pay back the sum, sending a letter to the Chicago Law Department calling the city’s demand “factually and legally flawed” and made in bad faith.