CBS News has learned that lawyers with the Chicago police department are trying to determine if they can legally release evidence in the investigation of State prosecutors cleared the "Empire" actor of all 16 felony counts filed against him just over two weeks ago for allegedly lying to police about being the target of a hate crime attack.despite a judge sealing the case.
The charges were dropped after Smollett performed just two days of community service this past week, and because he agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond even though the city spent more than $150,000 on his case. State prosecutor Joe Magats made the decision to drop the charges. He believes Smollett made up the allegations, but says the non-violent case qualifies for community service and a financial penalty, which he says is common.
"So you believe he's guilty?" CBS News' Adriana Diaz asked Magats, who said, "Yes."
"Our priority is violent crimes and the drivers of violence. Jussie Smollett is neither one of those," Magats said. Asked if community service and $10,000 is enough to wipe this clean, Magats said, "I feel that it is."
Smollett has denied all of the allegations.
Chicago's mayor and chief of police expressed outraged by the stunning reversal. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it a "whitewash of justice" and Chicago's police union wants the Justice Department to investigate.
"Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent. Still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare him," Emanuel said. "This sends an unambiguous message that there is no accountability and that is wrong."
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said his department was blindsided by the decision.
"It's Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period. If he wanted to clear his name, the way to do that was in a court of law so that everyone could see the evidence," Johnson said.
Smollett's attorneys said his record was "wiped clean" of the 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct – each punishable by up to three years in prison. The actor remained unapologetic while maintaining his innocence.
"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," Smollett said.
Prosecutors accused Smollett of lying to police about being attacked in the middle of the night by two white men who shouted racist and homophobic slurs. But it was two brothers who admitted under oath that Smollett paid them to do it.
"I would not be my mother's son if I was capable of one drop of what I've been accused of," Smollett said.
Investigators have said the 36-year-old – who is openly gay – made the report to gain publicity and a larger salary on the TV drama "Empire."
CBS News legal analyst Rikki Klieman calls this latest twist beyond unusual.
"You have a 16-count indictment … and then within a very short period of time, the case gets dismissed by the prosecution and it gets sealed. Unusual is almost not strong enough of a word," Klieman said.
Meanwhile the FBI is still investigating a threatening letter Smollett allegedly sent to himself in January, so his legal troubles are not over.
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