Actress Taraji P. Henson, the Empire co-star of Jussie Smollett, expressed relief about the decision to drop all charges against the actor Tuesday in an alleged hate crime against himself.
“I’m happy that the truth has finally been set free, because I knew it all along,” Henson said of prosecutors’ decision in an interview with USA Today. “We’re all happy for him, and thank God the truth prevailed.”
Henson, who plays Cookie Lyon, the mother to Smollett’s character Jamal Lyon, told the newspaper that she never doubted her co-star’s story due to his “immaculate track record.”
However, prosecutors still insist Smollett faked a racist, anti-gay attack on himself in the hopes that the attention would advance his acting career. The Empire star still says he was assaulted by two men late at night in downtown Chicago on January 29th. The actor told police he was assaulted by two masked individuals, who hurled racist and homophobic insults at him. He said his attackers doused him with an unknown chemical substance, place a thin rope around his neck, and shouted “This is MAGA country!” before fleeing. Police said Smollett paid $3,500 to the two men, both of whom are black.
The men were brothers Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo, and one of them had worked on Empire. An attorney for them, Gloria Schmidt, has said the brothers agreed to help Smollett because of their friendship with him and the sense that he was helping their careers. They declined to comment.
But with little explanation, authorities on Tuesday abruptly dropped all charges against Smollett, abandoning the criminal case only five weeks after the allegations were filed. In return, prosecutors said, the actor agreed to let the city keep his $10,000 in bail.
The dismissal drew a swift backlash from the mayor and police chief and raised questions about why Smollett was not forced to admit what prosecutors had said they could prove in court — that the entire episode was a publicity stunt.
Among those sure to keep pressing for answers is Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who appeared blindsided by the decision. His voice rising in anger at times, Emanuel called the deal “a whitewash of justice” and lashed out at Smollett. “Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent, still running down the Chicago police department. How dare him? How dare him? After everybody saw––and I want to remind you, this is not the superintendent’s word against his. The grand jury, a sliver of the evidence, and they came to a conclusion as did the state attorney’s office,” Emanuel said.” This is not the superintendent and the detectives’ department word against his. And even after this whitewash, there is still no sense of ownership of what he’s done. He says that, in fact, he is the wronged in this case. This is an unbelievable not just whitewash of justice.
Defense attorneys said Smollett’s record was “wiped clean” of the 16 felony counts related to making a false report. The actor, who also agreed to do community service, insisted that he had “been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one.”
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.
First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats said prosecutors “stand behind the investigation and the facts.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.