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Cook County state’s attorney’s office fumbles in Smollett case

Actor Jussie Smollett speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after prosecutors dropped all charges against him, Tuesday morning, March 26, 2019.

Actor Jussie Smollett speaks to reporters at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse after prosecutors dropped all charges against him, Tuesday, March 26, 2019. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Perhaps “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett didn’t deserve a hefty jail term for allegedly faking a double-barreled hate crime.

But he should have been held accountable for the waste of police resources that were used in pursuit of a hate crime that never happened, according to Chicago police and a grand jury.

Unfortunately, after months of speculations, and just when it looked like the public was about to get some answers about what really went down that night, Cook County prosecutors dropped a bombshell.

In an emergency hearing on Tuesday, prosecutors dropped 16 counts of disorderly conduct against Smollett, and a judge sealed the case file.

I thought the actor was about to fess up.

Instead, prosecutors backed off without giving a clear explanation about why Smollett gets to walk away without so much as a “my bad.”

They also reportedly didn’t give Police Supt. Eddie Johnson a heads up.

That’s both shameful — and ironic.

The credibility of the Cook County state’s attorney’s office was already compromised after Kim Foxx had to recuse herself because she corresponded with Tina Tchen, the former chief of staff for Michelle Obama, after Smollett had reported that he was attacked on Jan. 29.

Tchen had reached out on behalf of Smollett’s family with concerns about how the investigation was being handled.

Frankly, it was odd that someone in Foxx’s position would engage in such a conversation given the controversial nature of the Smollett case.

After all, the internet was ablaze with memes and jokes challenging the veracity of Smollett’s claims.

But in a follow-up email, Foxx told Tchen she tried to persuade Johnson to turn the investigation over to the FBI.

The same day, an unnamed relative of Jussie’s texted Foxx herself, as well, and Foxx said she was working on getting the case sent over to the FBI.

“Spoke to the superintendent earlier. He is going to make the ask. Trying to figure out logistics. I’ll keep you posted,” Foxx wrote the relative that evening.

“OMG this would be a huge victory,” the relative texted in reply, the Sun-Times reported.

Had prosecutors dropped the charges against Smollett for lack of evidence, it still would have looked bad.

But First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats said the decision to drop the charges was not a statement that Smollett did not pay his assailants to fake the attack and then falsely report the incident to police.

“The fact there was an alternative disposition in this case is not and should not be viewed as some kind of admission there was something wrong with the case, or something wrong with the investigation that the Chicago police did,” he said.

So how should we view it?

Does Smollett deserve special consideration because he is an actor and because he has done community service in the past?

That doesn’t explain why he allegedly told a ridiculous lie to raise his profile and increase his salary, as investigators concluded.

The prosecutors’ decision to drop all charges means Smollett has been allowed to trash our city’s reputation and squander its resources for a publicity stunt.

Prosecutors claim they made the decision to drop the charges under the “same criteria they would any other defendant.”

Frankly, our criminal justice system can be manipulated to show favor to whomever it pleases.

Some of us are still reeling from the ridiculously short sentence former police Officer Jason Van Dyke received for shooting Laquan McDonald 16 times.

Asked if justice was served in the Smollett case, Johnson said, “No.”

“I think this city is still owed an apology. If you want to say that you’re innocent of a situation, then you take your day in court…,” he said.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel called it a “whitewash of justice.”

“[It] sends a clear message that if you’re in a position of influence and power, you’ll get treated one way, other people will be treated another,” he said.

Tuesday’s abrupt about-face by the state’s attorney’s office is a slap in the face of every police officer who is trying to do his or her job with integrity.

Worse yet, the way this case has been handled by that office shows an alarming lack of respect for Johnson.

Politics aside, he doesn’t deserve that.

Even when Smollett’s suspicious saga started to unravel, the police superintendent insisted the actor be treated as a victim.

His persistence opened up the department, already under criticism for failing to solve homicides, to even more criticism as well as ridicule.

But Johnson can hold his head up.

His detectives did the job they were sworn to do.

I can’t say the same for the state’s attorney’s office.