Chicago - Chicago authorities on Tuesday slammed a decision to drop all criminal charges against US television actor Jussie Smollett, who was accused of fabricating a racist and homophobic hate crime.
In a move that caught the midwestern city's police chief and mayor by surprise, prosecutors dropped all 16 felony charges against the actor, who celebrated the outcome as his lawyers and family claimed vindication.
"I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one," Smollett, who is black and gay, said at a brief news conference.
"This has been an incredibly difficult time," he added, "Honestly, one of the worst in my entire life."
The 36-year-old, who was out on a $100 000 bond, was accused of masterminding a hoax attack in downtown Chicago to gain publicity and win a bigger paycheck.
Police said he sent himself a threatening letter and hired two acquaintances to stage the attack, complete with homophobic and racial slurs, while invoking Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.
Chicago's police chief and mayor, both visibly angry, denounced the decision to drop the case and Smollett's insistence of his innocence.
"This is a whitewash of justice," Mayor Rahm Emanuel told a hastily-arranged news conference, stressing that a jury had issued the 16-count indictment after viewing only part of the evidence.
"Mr. Smollett is still saying that he is innocent, still running down the Chicago Police Department. How dare him?" the mayor added.
The prosecutor's office has offered little explanation for suddenly reversing course.
It did not clarify whether prosecutors had changed their view on Smollett's culpability, or if they had simply decided that it was not in the public interest to try the case.
"After reviewing all of the facts and circumstances of the case, 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," the city prosecutor's office said in a statement.
As recently as last month, authorities said they had enough evidence to back up their case.
Chicago police chief Eddie Johnson said surveillance camera footage, text messages, phone records, and a cashed check proved Smollett staged the alleged hoax to tap into Americans' anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly "dissatisfied with his salary."
"I think this city is still owed an apology," Johnson said Tuesday.
"They chose to hide behind secrecy and broker a deal to circumvent the judicial system," he said. "I stand behind the detective's investigation."
The actor was accused of employing brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, both of whom worked on "Empire," to carry out the alleged plan.
His attorney Patricia Holmes acknowledged that the brothers had admitted to carrying out the attack, but she accused police of using "the press to convict people before they're tried in a court of law."
"We believe that it was the correct result in this case. We are very happy with this result," she said.
The initial news of the attack had prompted widespread sympathy for Smollett and outrage over the nature of the alleged crime.
But the star was written out of the last two episodes of the most recent season of "Empire" -- a musical soap opera set in New York but filmed in Chicago -- amid uproar over the accusations against him.
Smollett said he wanted "nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life," while his family put out a statement saying he had been vindicated.
"Our son and brother is an innocent man whose name and character has been unjustly smeared," Smollett's family said in a statement published by the ABC Network.
Fox producers said Tuesday they were "gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed," but would not comment on whether he would return to the show.