Chicago Prosecutor Says He Doesn't Believe Jussie Smollett Is Innocent

Jussie Smollett attends The Trevor Project's 2018 TrevorLIVE LA Gala - Getty-H 2019
Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

The prosecutor who oversaw the investigation, First Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Joseph Magats, said that Chicago has referred thousands of cases for "alternative prosecution" in the last two years.

The prosecutor who oversaw the investigation into Jussie Smollett's alleged hate crime and dropped charges against him on Tuesday is clarifying that he "does not believe [Smollett] is innocent."

In an interview with CBS Chicago, First Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Joseph Magats, who headed up the investigation after Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself Feb. 19, said that dropping the charges does not vindicate Smollett. "I do not believe he is innocent," Magats said in response to a reporter's question Tuesday. Answering why the Cook County State's Attorney's Office then dropped the charges, Magats said, "Based on all the facts and circumstances, based on his life and criminal background. I mean, we defer and do alternative prosecutions. In the last two years, we've done 5,700 other felony cases."

In a surprise turn of events in the Smollett saga, the Cook County State's Attorney's Office dropped all charges against the Empire actor, Smollett's lawyers announced Tuesday. "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 in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter after Smollett's lawyers revealed their client's exoneration.

In a statement sent Tuesday to NBC 5 Chicago about the controversial decision, the State's Attorney's Office clarified, "In the last two years, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office has referred more than 5,700 cases for alternative prosecution. This is not a new or unusual practice. An alternative disposition does not mean that there were any problems or infirmities with the case or the evidence." The office added, "We stand behind the Chicago Police Department's investigation and our decision to approve charges in this case. We did not exonerate Mr. Smollett. The charges were dropped in return for Mr. Smollett's agreement to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the City of Chicago."

After Smollett's attorneys revealed that all charges against their client were dropped, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago police criticized the decision in a blisteringly worded press conference. "This is a whitewash of justice," Emanuel told reporters. "I’d like to remind everybody a grand jury indicted this individual based on only a piece of the evidence that the police had collected in that period of time. So a grand jury actually brought the charges.”

Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly falsifying a supposed hate crime with Chicago police after originally being charged with disorderly conduct. The actor kicked off the police inquiry in January, when he claimed that two masked men attacked him early in the morning in Chicago outside a sandwich shop and called him racist and homophobic slurs.