In Depth

Why is Jussie Smollett suing Chicago?

Former Empire actor launches counterclaim over alleged staging of racist assault

Actor Jussie Smollett is suing the City of Chicago for  “maliciously” prosecuting him over his claims about an alleged attack earlier this year.

His lawyers have filed papers claiming the Empire star has suffered “humiliation, mental anguish and extreme emotional distress” at the hands of Chicago authorities.

Police and prosecutors accused Smollett of staging a racist and homophobic attack on himself in January.

So what happened?

Smollett claimed that two white men punched him, put a noose-like rope around his neck and poured an “unknown chemical substance” over him during an attack in a Chicago suburb in the early hours of 29 January.

The actor told police that his assailants had shouted Trump slogans and racist and homophobic abuse.

But the following month, Smollett was arrested after two Nigerian-American brothers came forward saying that the Smollett had paid them to stage the attack as part of a plan that police said was intended to “promote his career” because he was “dissatisfied with his salary”, reports the BBC.

What were the charges against him?

In March, Smollett was indicted by a Cook County grand jury on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct. The actor - who lost his role in Empire over the row - denied all the charges, saying: “I have 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’ve been accused of.”

City prosecutors subsequently dropped the charges. In a statement announcing the decision, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx said: “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.”

What was the reaction?

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said that he felt justice had not been done and that “the city is still owed an apology…At the end of the day it was Mr Smollett who committed this hoax. Period.”

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel accused Smollett of fabricating a hate crime “all in the name of self-promotion”, adding that the celebrity took “no sense of ownership of what he’s done”.

Even the person responsible for dropping the charges, Illinois prosecutor Joe Magats, said he thought Smollett was guilty. But Magats defended the decision to drop the case, saying Smollett had let the city keep his $10,000 (£7,600) bail money and had done community service.

However, a week after the charges were dropped, city lawyers sent Smollett a letter demanding that he pay $130,106.15 (£101,000) within seven days to cover the cost of the investigation into his alleged attack.

“Ultimately, the Chicago police investigation revealed that you knowingly filed a false police report and had in fact orchestrated your own attack,” the letter said.

After Smollett refused to stump up, city authorities launched a lawsuit against him seeking to recoup the cash, a case which is still ongoing. 

Why is Smollett suing the city?

Smollett has always maintained that he is an innocent victim, and claims in legal documents filed this week that Chicago’s attempt to sue him is “malicious”, says entertainment news site Deadline.

He accuses the city, police and others of causing “substantial economic damages as well as reputational harm, humiliation, mental anguish and extreme emotional distress”.

Smollett is seeking compensatory and punitive damages. 

A spokesperson for Chicago’s law department told Reuters that the city “stands by its original complaint and fully expect to be successful in defeating these counterclaims”.

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