Charges against actor Jussie Smollett dropped; officials furious

CHICAGO : Officials in Chicago slammed a decision to drop all criminal charges against US television actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of fabricating a racist and homophobic hate crime.

In a move that caught the city's police chief and mayor by surprise, prosecutors dropped all 16 felony charges against the 36-year-old, who celebrated the outcome as his lawyers and family claimed vindication.

"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," Smollett said at a brief news conference.

"This has been an incredibly difficult time. Honestly, one of the worst in my entire life."

Smollett, who was out on a US$100,000 (S$135,000) bond, was accused of masterminding a hoax attack in downtown Chicago to gain publicity and win a bigger pay cheque.

Police said he sent himself a threatening letter and hired two acquaintances to stage the attack, complete with homophobic and racial slurs.

Chicago's police chief and mayor, both visibly angry, denounced the decision to drop the case and Smollett's insistence of his innocence.

"This is a whitewash of justice," Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a hastily-arranged news conference, stressing that a jury had issued the 16-count indictment after viewing only part of the evidence.

"Mr Smollett is still saying that he is innocent, still running down the Chicago Police Department," the mayor added. "How dare he?"

The prosecutor's office has offered little explanation for suddenly reversing course.

It did not clarify whether prosecutors had changed their view on Smollett's culpability, or if they had simply decided that it was not in the public interest to try the case.

"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 city prosecutor's office said in a statement.

But the star was already written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season of the TV series Empire amid uproar over the accusations against him.

Smollett said he wanted "nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life".

The show's producers said on Tuesday they were "gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed", but would not comment on whether he would return to the show. - AFP