The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office engaged in “substantial abuses of discretion and operational failures” in its prosecution of Jussie Smollett, but prosecutors’ conduct did not rise to the level of criminal wrongdoing, according to Special Prosecutor Dan K. Webb.
In a news release Monday, Webb’s team said prosecutors’ handling of the hot-button case was riddled with confusing strategies, misleading public statements and outright falsehoods.
Among them: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx and her team simply ignored a “major legal defect” regarding her recusal from the case. Once they realized that the recusal had been handled improperly, they “seemingly … did not want to admit they had made such a major mistake of judgment,” according to the release.
And Foxx misled the press about her interactions with a Smollett family member early in the case — revealed in the news release to be Smollett’s sister, Jurnee Smollett-Bell. Rather than cut off communications after it became clear Smollett was a suspect, and not simply a victim, she continued texting and calling Smollett’s sister for at least five days, per the report.
Webb was appointed special prosecutor last year by Judge Michael Toomin, who directed his team to fulfill two objectives: determine whether Smollett should be prosecuted a second time, and investigate the conduct of those who handled the case the first time around.
Webb’s full report on Cook County prosecutors was not made public; in the news release, Webb’s team states that they will be asking Toomin for permission to release the 60-page final report in full.
Webb’s special Cook County grand jury indicted Smollett in February on six counts of disorderly conduct alleging he orchestrated a racist and homophobic attack on himself in downtown Chicago in January 2019.
The allegations were similar to charges brought by Foxx’s office last year. Foxx had recused herself from overseeing the prosecution, revealing she’d had contact with a member of Smollett’s family early in the investigation at the request of Tina Tchen, Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff.
But in appointing attorney Webb as special prosecutor last year, Toomin wrote that Foxx botched the recusal by handing the reins to her top deputy. Because the recusal was invalid, the entire process played out without a real prosecutor at the helm, he wrote — opening the door for Smollett to be charged again by a separate team of special prosecutors.
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