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Not every crime victim can 'discuss crime on Good Morning America:' Judge OKs city suit vs Smollett

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By Jonathan Bilyk | Oct 23, 2019

Smollett good morning america
Jussie Smollett tells his story on ABC's "Good Morning America." | Youtube screenshot

Noting most crime victims “do not have the opportunity to discuss the crime on Good Morning America,” a federal judge has brushed aside actor Jussie Smollett’s attempt to force Chicago City Hall to drop its lawsuit against him to recoup the city’s steep costs in investigating the actor’s false claims he was assaulted in a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago last winter.

In September, lawyers for Smollett filed a brief in Chicago federal court, asserting the city’s extensive investigation of Smollett’s false crime report was the city’s choice, so the actor shouldn’t be forced to reimburse the city for the resulting price tag from the incident that ignited a firestorm across the country and around the world.

Smollett’s lawyer, William J. Quinlan, wrote in the September brief that the city’s lawsuit represents a “vindictive effort to prosecute charges” quickly dropped, in a move by Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office that stunned and outraged many, including former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Smollett’s filing had come about five months since City Hall filed suit against Smollett, accusing the actor of violating Chicago city ordinances which give the city authority to pursue people in court for knowingly making false statements to police. The city has said such false reports undermine the criminal justice system and waste taxpayer money.

The city has estimated the Smollett investigation cost the city more than $300,000, including $130,000 in police overtime costs alone. The city’s Cost Recovery Ordinance gives the city the authority to demand up to three times the amount the city spent investigating the allegedly false claims, as well as court costs and attorney fees.

On Oct. 22, U.S. District Judge Virginia M. Kendall shut down that line of attack, saying Smollett’s filing represents “attempts to muddy the waters with irrelevant arguments about the City’s motivation for” demanding Smollett pay up.

“The City pleaded that Smollett made false reports to police officers and that CPD incurred costs investigating those false reports,” Kendall wrote.  “The ‘natural, ordinary and reasonable consequence’ of a police report is a police investigation. And the natural, ordinary and reasonable consequence of a police report like this one—a racist, homophobic physical assault in which masked attackers invoked the President of the United States’ official campaign slogan—is an intensive, sprawling investigation like the one that took place.

“Smollett contends that police overtime pay is not ‘foreseeable in the normal course of events,’ but this is hardly the normal course of events - most crime victims, for instance, do not have the opportunity to discuss the crime on Good Morning America.

“The allegations were taken seriously by the Chicago Police Department in significant part due to the high profile of the claimant and the extreme nature of the accusations.”

Judge Kendall also rejected Smollett’s contention the city’s lawsuit must fail because the city doesn’t “plead that Mr. Smollett’s statements ‘directly and inevitably’” caused the Chicago Police Department to order a sprawling, overtime-intensive investigation.

Judge Kendall said there is “no missing link or middleman” in this case.

“The City alleges that Smollett made false statements to Chicago police officers in violation of the (False Statements Ordinance) and that the City incurred costs investigating the false statements,” Kendall wrote. “… The costs the City incurred investigating Smollett’s false statements are ‘reasonably related’ to the false statements for purposes of the (Cost Recovery Ordinance). And the City provides extensive detail about the false statements and the costs it incurred, which is more than enough to establish cause and effect.”

The decision will allow the city to continue its lawsuit against Smollett.

That lawsuit had followed the decision by Foxx’s office to drop charges against Smollett, which had been based on the evidence supplied by Chicago Police as a result of the weekslong investigation of Smollett’s claims.

Smollett, who is black and gay, had an acting role on the Fox television series, “Empire.” In January, Smollett claimed he was attacked in Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood by two white men wearing “Make America Great Again” hats, while Smollett walked in the pre-dawn hours after purchasing a sandwich. According to Smollett’s claims, the men assaulted him, poured bleach on him and hung a noose around his neck, while shouting racist and homophobic slurs and saying “This is MAGA Country,” a reference to the presidential campaign slogan of President Donald Trump.

The alleged incident quickly went public, with Smollett retelling the story on television, including on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” Celebrities and Democratic politicians did not pause to ask if the allegations were true, and rushed to express sympathy and used the story as an example of the perceived bigotry of their political opponents.

However, Chicago Police secured an indictment of Smollett instead for fabricating the incident, accusing him of working two Nigerian brothers Smollett knew, identified as Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo. According to police reports, Smollett hired the two men to him stage the attack, allegedly to engender sympathy for Smollett after he claimed producers at “Empire” and Fox of not reacting properly to a racist and homophobic letter he had claimed to receive.

Foxx’s decision to drop the charges infuriated Chicago Police and Mayor Emanuel, who called the action a “whitewash.” Reports have indicated prior to the State’s Attorney’s office dropping charges, Foxx had been in conversations with Tina Tchen, the former chief of staff for former First Lady Michelle Obama. Tchen allegedly had reached out to Foxx on behalf of Smollett’s family.

Despite the extensive coverage of the incident, Smollett’s lawyers had argued the city’s response was not required, and the costs for investigating Smollett’s alleged hoax should be borne by taxpayers, not the actor who filed the allegedly false police report.

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U.S. District Court for the Northern District of IllinoisChicago Police DepartmentCity of ChicagoLaw Office of William Quinlan

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