A Chicago judge on Friday appointed a special prosecutor to look into why state prosecutors abruptly dropped charges against actor Jussie Smollett that accused him of staging a racist, anti-gay attack against himself, the Associated Press reports. Cook County Judge Michael Toomin’s appointment of former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb raises the possibility that the special prosecutor could bring new charges against the former “Empire” actor. Smollett, who is black and gay, maintains that the January attack was real and wasn’t staged.
The Cook County state’s attorney’s office charged Smollett in February with 16 counts of disorderly conduct for purportedly orchestrating the incident. However, it dropped the charges a month later with little explanation, angering city officials and the police. Former state appellate judge Sheila O’Brien called for a special prosecutor, leading to Toomin’s surprise ruling in June that one was warranted. Smollett told police he was walking home early on Jan. 29 when two masked men approached him, made racist and homophobic insults, beat him and looped a noose around his neck before fleeing. He said his assailants, at least one of whom he said was white, told him he was in “MAGA country” — a reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”