Gloria Schmidt was packing for a family vacation Tuesday morning when she saw news alerts start to roll in: All charges against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett had been dropped.
Schmidt was the attorney representing the two brothers — Ola and Abel Osundairo — who were suspected to have been paid $3,500 to fake a racist and homophobic attack on Smollett at the end of January.
The Osundairo brothers, after turning on Smollett while in police custody for nearly 48 hours, were the key witnesses who transformed the Chicago Police Department’s probe from a hate crime investigation into false police report charges against Smollett.
After spending weeks prepping her clients to testify, Schmidt was as surprised as anyone to learn that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office decided to dump the case without any heads up to the two primary witnesses.
“It’s either there was a hate crime against Mr. Smollett, or he devised this plan. It can’t be both,” Schmidt told the Sun-Times on Wednesday. “I know the police did their job, they finished the investigation, they did what they’re supposed to do. The grand jury did what they’re supposed to do. Whose job is it to finish this? It’s the state’s attorney’s.”
Smollett had told police that he was walking back to his Streeterville home about 2 a.m. Jan. 29 when two men walked up to him yelling racist and homophobic slurs, poured bleach on him and put a noose around his neck.
Even after detectives looked through hundreds of hours of surveillance footage from the area, there was no evidence the attack really happened. The Osundairo brothers later told police they were paid to stage the attack.
Schmidt maintained that her clients were still ready and willing to testify against Smollett and said the pair had recently been assigned a victim’s advocate from the state’s attorney’s office. She said she had never seen a case dismissed altogether without some admission of guilt.
“The part that is missing in this transaction is the part where he pleads guilty,” Schmidt said. “From traffic tickets all the way up to felonies, in my eight years of practicing, I have never once had the Cook County state’s attorney’s office just completely dismiss all charges. Never.”
Schmidt said she could only speculate as to why prosecutors made the move to drop the case despite she and the brothers having “hard, physical evidence” against Smollett.
“Jussie was considered a victim in the first instances of the investigation, and that was an appropriate thing to do,” Schmidt said. “Anyone who says they’ve suffered a hate crime should be believed first. After mountains of evidence, still looking at him as a victim, then the police said, ‘OK, this is not holding up.'”
As for the brothers’ relationship with Smollett, Schmidt said the Osundairos haven’t been in contact with the actor since their arrest. Though they likely have a “mixture of emotions” about Smollett, Schmidt didn’t think they would hold a grudge.
“At the end of the day, and how I know them, I don’t think that they wish any ill will on anyone,” she said.