- Charges were dropped against actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of staging an attack against himself.
- Both he and his attorneys have released statements maintaining his innocence.
- Meanwhile, the Chicago Police and Mayor believe justice was not served in this case.
Charges against actor Jussie Smollett have been dropped by Chicago prosecutors.
Less than two weeks ago, Smollett pleaded not guilty to 16 counts of disorderly conduct for falsifying a police report. The actor from FOX’s show, Empire, was accused of staging a hate crime against himself in January.
Smollett told police that two men beat him, used racial and homophobic slurs, tied a rope around his neck, and poured bleach on him. Police later said that Smollett staged the attack and paid the two men to do so. Smollett has maintained his innocence.
On Tuesday morning, he appeared in court in Chicago for an emergency hearing. He agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond to the city of Chicago. All charges were dropped against him, his record was expunged, and the court records were sealed.
Kim Foxx, a Cook County state attorney, released a statement calling this an appropriate resolution.
“After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case,” her statement read, “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.”
Right now, it is unclear what prompted prosecutors to call the emergency hearing and drop the charges. According to a report from TMZ, questions arose regarding the check police alleged Smollet paid the attackers. The check may have actually been used to pay for physical training. This report, however, is unverified.
First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats told the Chicago Sun-Times that this decision does not mean there were flaws in the case against Smollett.
“We stand behind the CPD investigation done in this case, we stand behind the approval of charges in this case…They did a fantastic job. The fact there was an alternative disposition
Smollett and His Team Respond
Smollett’s attorneys also released a statement where they claimed Smollett was the victim, and was falsely vilified.
“Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement.”
“Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion.”
Smollett also spoke out himself in a press briefing outside the courthouse on Tuesday.
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain,” he told reporters. “I’ve 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 have been accused of.”
Chicago Police and Mayor Respond
Chicago Police Commander Ed Wodnicki called the prosecutor’s choice to drop charges a “kick in the gut.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also disagreed with their decision, calling it “whitewashed.”
“This is without a doubt a whitewash of justice,” he said during a press conference. “And sends a clear message that if you’re in a position of influence or power you will be treated one way. Other people will be treated another way. There is no accountability in the system.”
See What Others Are Saying: (Chicago Sun Times) (CBS Chicago) (CNN)
Washington Teen Who Pushed Friend Off Bridge Sentenced to 2 Days in Jail
- Last summer, a video went viral showing a Washington teen pushing her friend off a bridge and into a river over 50 feet down below.
- The fall left the victim with several injuries including six broken ribs and severe bruising.
- The teen who pushed her has now been sentenced to two days in jail.
The Washington teen who pleaded guilty to pushing her friend off a bridge and into a river has been sentenced to two days in jail and 38 days on a county work crew.
The fall left Holgerson with six broken ribs, punctured lungs, a hematoma behind her throat, severe bruising, and muscle tearing. Doctors said the fall could have been fatal.
Smith pleaded not guilty to a misdemeanor count of reckless endangerment last
Prosecutors recommended that she receive no jail time and instead serve 60 days of home confinement, 30 days of service with a work crew, and 30 days of community service.
In court Wednesday, Holgerson told Clark County District Court Judge Darvin J. Zimmerman that she is still dealing with physical therapy, pain, anxiety and panic attacks. “This nightmare started for me when I was falling through the air, and I was really terrified,”
“When I was being pulled from the water, I thought, ‘I’m going to die,’ because I couldn’t breathe. And I was watching my body change color by the second.”
The victim’s mother, Genelle Holgerson, told the judge that she feels lucky that her daughter is alive today. She went on to say that believed Smith pushed her daughter intentionally and should be forced to serve as many days in jail and her daughter spent in the hospital, a total of three days. “It has cost me and my family lost wages not to mention stress and heartache.”
“After Taylor pushed her, she did not rush down to see if Jordan was OK, she left the scene,” Genelle Holgerson said. “She did not show up at the hospital to check on Jordan. She did not stop by our home to see if she was OK or in any other way act like a friend.”
During sentencing, Judge Zimmerman noted the severity of Holgerson’s injuries and told Smith, “I think you need to do some jail time.”
Smith was ultimately sentenced to two days in jail and ordered to spend 38 days on a work crew. She must also pay a $300 fine and is prohibited from having contact with the victim for the next two years.
Smith will be placed on supervised probation until she meets the requirements of her sentence. “I’d like to sincerely apologize to Jordan Holgerson, her family and friends for the pain and humiliation I have caused by my mindless actions that occurred last summer,” Smith said tearfully in court.
“Jordan has passed through my thoughts repetitively since the incident. My words here are sincere. I can’t say I don’t deserve the hate from the media or the loss of old friends, but what I can say is that I have and will continue to try my best to
Florida Republicans Move to Limit Felon Voting Rights in New Bill
- The Florida House of Representatives advanced a bill on Tuesday that would limit the number of former felons whose voting rights were restored under Amendment 4.
- The bill more strictly defines what kind of former felons can vote and requires them to pay all court costs before their voting rights can be restored.
- Critics have called the bill a “poll tax,” and said it disproportionately affects poor people and people of color.
Florida Republicans are facing backlash after a Florida House committee advanced a bill on Tuesday that would limit the number of former felons whose voting rights were restored under Amendment 4.
Amendment 4 was a historic referendum on the Florida ballot during the last midterm elections that was overwhelmingly passed by voters with nearly 65% of the vote.
Prior to the amendment, Florida automatically prohibited all former felons from voting. In contrast, Amendment 4 automatically restored voting rights to felons who have completed the terms of their sentences, including jail time, probation, parole, and paying fines or restitution.
It is also important to note that the amendment does not apply to those who had murder or felony sex convictions.
Overall, the amendment was expected to restore voting rights to nearly 1.4 million former felons.
Amendment 4 was added to Florida’s constitution on Jan. 8, and many former felons have already registered to vote.
However, the amendment quickly received challenges from the state’s new Republican governor, Ron DeSantis. DeSantis said Florida lawmakers needed to outline guidance for evaluating voter eligibility, specifically so sex offenders do not “fall through the cracks.”
Bill Passes Committee
The bill passed in the Florida House committee on Tuesday essentially picks up where DeSantis left off. If enacted, the bill would limit the voting rights of felons in two key ways.
First, the bill defines what crimes would prevent someone from having their voting rights restored.
Specifically, it disqualifies anyone convicted of felonies with any kind of sexual component from having their rights restored. This includes having an adult entertainment store too close to a school, and certain prostitution crimes.
Second, the bill requires former felons to pay all court costs and fees before their sentence can be considered “complete,” even if those fees were not ordered by a judge as part of the person’s sentence.
Almost immediately the bill garnered significant backlash.
Critics of the bill said it targets lower-income citizens and goes against the will of Florida voters, who overwhelmingly passed the amendment back in November.
“What the barriers proposed in this bill do is nearly guarantee that people will miss election after election …because they cannot afford to pay financial obligations,” said Julie Ebenstein, a voting rights attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union, “It’s an affront to the Florida voters.”
Ebenstein also said the financial obligations in the bill disproportionately affects two main groups: low-income felons, and former felons who committed property crimes and were sentenced to pay large restitution and put on payment plans to do so.
According to annual reports from the Florida Clerks and Comptrollers, more than $1 billion in felony fines were issued between 2013 and 2018, and an average of only 19 percent of that money was paid back per year.
Ebenstein added that the bill requires the victim or organization to whom the ex-felon owes fees to “consent” to the felons voting rights being restored, even if a court waives the repayment of fees in the first place.
Desmond Meade, a former felon who helped lead the initiative to get Amendment 4 on the ballot, said he and his organization Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC) oppose the measure.
FRRC also started a petition to protect Amendment 4.
Some, including FRRC, have called the bill “unconstitutional overreach.” Other’s also compared the bill to a poll tax.
Florida State Rep. Adam Hattersley, who is a member of the committee that approved the bill, hit on both these points in a statement, saying: “It’s not only targeting the poor and is targeting minorities, but it’s blatantly unconstitutional as a poll tax […] The will of the voters is clear, and this bill is trying to circumvent that.”
The idea that the measure is functionally a poll tax was also evoked by politicians outside of Florida. U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also referred to the bill as “A poll tax by any other name” in a tweet.
State Rep. James Grant who was one of the main architects of the bill disputed the claim and rebuked Rep. Hattersley, saying:
“To suggest that this is a poll tax inherently diminishes the atrocity of what a poll tax actually was […] All we’re doing is following statute. All we’re doing is following the testimony of what was presented before the Florida Supreme Court explicitly acknowledging that fines and court costs are part of a sentence.”
Rep. Grant also defended the more strict definition of “felony sex,” saying: “There is absolutely zero significance to the term ‘felony sex,’ […] Had the language said ‘sex offender,’ that would have meant something.”
Implications for 2020
With all this back and forth, many are wondering what happens next.
The current version of the bill has been approved by a House committee, which is the first step in moving the bill to a vote on the House floor.
Following the bill’s approval in the House committee, Politico reported that the president of Florida’s state Senate “said he expects his chamber to draw up a companion measure.”
Politico also reported that Gov. DeSantis said Tuesday that he had not yet seen the wording of the measure, but supported having the Florida Legislature outline how the amendment should be implemented, stating: “Do you want the executive branch to just unilaterally, by fiat, make these decisions […] or do you want it to be in a public debate?”
Both Florida’s House and Senate have Republican majorities and DeSantis is a Republican, giving the state a powerful trifecta. That means if the state House and Senate can agree on a bill, it seems likely that DeSantis will sign it.
With this bill, the voting rights of more than a million Floridians at stake. However, there are also broader implications beyond Florida that could possibly impact the U.S. presidency.
Florida is a key battleground state in the 2020 presidential race.
Voters backed both Barack Obama and Donald Trump in the last two presidential elections. In the last midterm elections, the races for U.S. Senate and Governor of Florida were so close that both forced automatic recounts.
Republican-controlled state legislatures have been criticized since the midterm elections for attempts to change or undo election results where Democrats or progressive causes triumphed.
For example, Republican lawmakers tried to pass legislation to limit the powers of incoming Democratic governors in Michigan and Wisconsin.
Neil Volz, political director for the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, criticized the actions in Florida, saying: “Today, we saw the beginning of the politicization of Amendment 4 […] We think we can do better than that.”
Whether or not the bill is simply a political ploy is unclear, but regardless it would have significant implications for the state of Florida and beyond.