Case dropped against US actor accused of hate attack hoax

Actor Jussie Smollett speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago after prosecutors dropped all charges against him, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. (AP)
Updated 27 March 2019

Case dropped against US actor accused of hate attack hoax

  • Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett for dragging the city’s reputation “through the mud” in a quest to advance his career
  • Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him

CHICAGO: Infuriating Chicago’s mayor and police chief, prosecutors abruptly dropped all charges against Jussie Smollett on Tuesday after the “Empire” actor accused of faking a racist, anti-gay attack on himself agreed to do volunteer service and to let the city keep his $10,000 in bail.
Authorities gave no detailed explanation for why they abandoned the case only five weeks after filing the charges and threatening to pursue Smollett for the cost of a monthlong investigation. Prosecutors said they still believe Smollett concocted the assault. Smollett insisted he told the truth all along.
The dismissal drew an immediate backlash. Mayor Rahm Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett for dragging the city’s reputation “through the mud” in a quest to advance his career. At one point he asked, “Is there no decency in this man?“
Smollett’s attorneys said his record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report that he was assaulted by two men. The actor insisted that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
“I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was being accused of,” he told reporters after a court hearing. He thanked the state of Illinois “for attempting to do what’s right.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for the Cook County prosecutors’ office said the dismissal came “after reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case.” Tandra Simonton called it “a just disposition and appropriate resolution” but said it was not an exoneration.
When dropping cases, prosecutors will sometimes insist that the defendant accept at least a measure of responsibility. Outside court, neither Smollett nor his legal team appeared to concede anything about his original report in January .
Defense attorney Patricia Brown Holmes said Smollett was “attacked by two people he was unable to identify” and “was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator.”
Authorities alleged that Smollett, who is black and gay, knew the men and arranged for them to pretend to attack him.
Emanuel, who is in his final weeks in office after two terms, said the hoax could endanger other gay people who report hate crimes by casting doubt on whether they are telling the truth.
Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson stood by the department’s investigation and said Chicago is “is still owed an apology.”
“I’ve heard that they wanted their day in court with TV cameras so that America could know the truth. They chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system,” Johnson said at a graduation ceremony for new police cadets.
Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation, citing conversations she had with a Smollett family member.
Many legal experts were surprised by the dismissal, especially since it did not include any condition that Smollett apologize and admit he orchestrated the attack.
“This situation is totally bizarre. It’s highly, highly unusual,” said Phil Turner, a Chicago defense attorney and former federal prosecutor with no ties to the case.
He said it would be wrong to argue leniency on the grounds that no serious harm was done.
“The damage done was worse than a broken arm or money lost in a fraud,” Turner said. “The reputation of the city has taken a tremendous blow.”
Because Chicago was the primary victim, Turner argued, it would have been appropriate for prosecutors to consult the mayor and the police chief in advance.
“That prosecutors didn’t seem to do that is an insult to the city and police,” he said.
Smollett reported that he was attacked around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago. Investigators said he made the false report because he was unhappy with his pay on “Empire” and believed it would promote his career.
The actor plays the gay character Jamal Lyon on the hit Fox TV show, which follows a black family as they navigate the ups and downs of the recording industry.
He reported that he was assaulted on his way home from a sandwich shop. Smollett said two masked men shouted racial and anti-gay slurs, poured bleach on him, beat him and looped a rope around his neck. He claimed they shouted, “This is MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. He asserted that he could see one of the men was white because he could see the skin around his eyes.
Police said Smollett hired two men, both of whom are black, to attack him. Smollett allegedly paid the men $3,500.
The men were brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked on “Empire.” An attorney for them has said the brothers agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and the sense that he was helping their careers.
Holmes refused to answer questions about whether Smollett’s team would seek legal action against the two.
Before the attack, police said, Smollett also sent a letter threatening himself to the Chicago studio where “Empire” is shot. The FBI, which is investigating that letter, has declined to comment.
Smollett said he wanted “nothing more than to get back to work and move on with my life.” But his future with the show was unclear. Shortly after the charges were filed, producers announced that his character would be removed from the final two episodes of the season.
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India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

Updated 15 October 2019

India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

  • Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate
  • Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones

SRINAGAR: Text messaging services were blocked in Indian Kashmir just hours after being restored when a truck driver was killed by suspected militants and his vehicle set ablaze, authorities said Tuesday.
Separately Indian officials said that a 24-year-old woman died in the latest exchange of artillery fire with Pakistan over their de-facto border dividing the blood-soaked Himalayan region.
Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate.
Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day blackout in the restive northern territory imposed after New Delhi scrapped the region's semi-autonomous status.
The seven million-plus people of the Kashmir Valley — the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule — are still cut off from the Internet, however.
Authorities said SMS services were cut again on Monday night following the attack on the driver of a truck carrying apples in Shopian.
Residents said two masked gunmen told the driver to use his truck to block the road, but it skidded and got stuck.
“The gunmen then fired at the truck and set it on fire,” a witness told AFP.
Apples are a sensitive issue in Kashmir, which exports vast quantities of the fruit to markets across India.
Many orchard owners say they are refusing to harvest this year to protest against the government’s move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.
Indian authorities say that militants — backed by arch-rival Pakistan — have been intimidating farmers and businessmen.
The latest death from Pakistani artillery fire over the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir brings the number of fatalities on the Indian side to three in the past four days, the Press Trust of India reported.
Two Indian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents on Friday and Sunday, PTI said. It was unclear if there were any fatalities from Indian fire on the Pakistani side.
Also on Tuesday, police arrested 13 women activists in Srinagar after they staged a protest calling for civil liberties and the release of detainees.
The women, wearing black armbands, were arrested for “breaching the peace” and for a contravening a ban in place since early August on public gatherings of more than four people, police said.
They included the sister and daughter of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, one of several hundred local politicians, lawyers and others in custody since early August, mostly without charge.
Abdullah, 81, was formally arrested in mid-September under the highly contentious Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows someone to be held for up to two years without charge, and which has been used widely in Kashmir in recent years.
Rebels have been fighting for three decades some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or to join Pakistan which also controls part of the region and, like India, claims it in full.