Nearly eight months have passed since Cook County, Illinois, prosecutors astonished the public (and several Chicago officials) by dropping their case against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, who had been charged with lying to police about a bigoted attack against him. But a related legal battle surges on.
This week, Smollett filed a counterclaim against the city of Chicago's April lawsuit demanding he pay $130,000 to make up for the 1,836 hours of police overtime spent looking into the alleged hate crime. In that suit, the city stated its intention to also seek attorneys' fees and a civil penalty of $1,000 for each of Smollett's alleged lies. But the actor's lawyers claimed the city "is not entitled" to any of this.
"Having agreed to accept $10,000 from Mr. Smollett as payment in full connection with the dismissal of the charges against him," the counterclaim, filed Tuesday, stated of his bond, "the City cannot seek additional recovery from Mr. Smollett under the doctrine of accord and satisfaction."
The counterclaim pointed to the "malicious prosecution" carried out by the city. It singled out Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson and two detectives, Edward Wodnicki and Michael Theis, in arguing that police had disseminated "false and misleading information," leading to media reports that Smollett might have orchestrated the alleged attack.
The scandal gripped the nation beginning in late January, when Smollett, who is black and gay, told police he had been attacked late at night by two people yelling homophobic and racist slurs. Incremental updates cast doubt upon Smollett's story - he had worked on "Empire" with at least one of the alleged perpetrators, for instance - and in early March, he was indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly lying to police.
Several Chicago officials criticized the prosecutors' decision to drop all charges later that month; then-mayor Rahm Emmanuel called it a "whitewash of justice." But Joe Magats, the first assistant state's attorney who stepped up after his boss, Kim Foxx, recused herself from the case before Smollett's arrest, insisted that the decision shouldn't be viewed as an exoneration of the actor.
Foxx announced her bid for re-election as the Cook County state's attorney on Tuesday, the same day Smollett's lawyers filed the counterclaim. Asked at a recent forum on criminal justice reform what she had taken away from the experience with Smollett's case, Foxx said she learned that "change is hard."
"We started this administration talking about the fact that we were going to use our criminal justice to deal with violence. And those cases that could be dealt with outside of the justice system, we would deal with outside of the justice system," she reportedly said. "But even as you do that, you have to keep people informed. You have to talk about it. You can't do things where people don't understand. Because once that happens, once the misunderstanding happens, it's hard to unwind that."
Smollett, who was written out of "Empire," maintains his innocence.
This article was written by Sonia Rao, a reporter for The Washington Post.