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Jussie Smollett Sues Chicago for ‘Malicious Prosecution’ in Hate Crime Case

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  • After dropping charges against actor Jussie Smollett for making false reports about a hate crime allegedly committed against him, the city of Chicago sued Smollett, demanding he cover the cost of the investigation.
  • The suit specifically asked for over $130,000 to cover overtime paid to officers on his case. 
  • Now Smollett has countersued, saying he should not have to pay since he already agreed to forfeit his $10,000 bond and accusing the city of “malicious prosecution” that brought him humiliation and emotional distress. 

Jussie Smollet’s Hate Crime Case 

Former Empire actor Jussie Smollet is suing Chicago for “malicious prosecution” and says he should not have to reimburse the city for the cost of the investigation into his hate crime claims.

Smollett made headlines in January when he said two masked men looped a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him, and yelled homophobic and racist slurs.  But after an investigation, Chicago police determined that the attack was staged by Smollett, who was then indicted on 16 felony counts of filing a false report. 

Smollett has maintained his innocence and prosecutors eventually dropped the charges against him in March, after he agreed to complete community service and forfeit the $10,000 bond he paid following his arrest. 

Now his lawyers are using that as a defense for why he should not have to pay for the cost of the investigation.

Smollett’s Counterclaim 

Smollett’s lawyers filed a two-count counterclaim against Chicago on Tuesday in response to its April lawsuit demanding that he pay over $130,000 to cover the 1,836 hours of overtime paid to police officers working his case. 

In the city’s lawsuit, it said it also intended to seek attorneys’ fees and a civil penalty of $1,000 for each of his false claims. However, Smollett’s legal team says the city “is not entitled” to any of this.

Smollett’s lawyers argued the city should not be allowed to hold him liable for the cost because it accepted the $10,000 from the actor “as payment in full in connection with the dismissal of the charges against him.”

The counterclaim adds, “The City cannot seek additional recovery from Mr. Smollett under the doctrine of accord and satisfaction.”

His attorneys also accused the city of “malicious prosecution,”  saying that Smollett suffered “humiliation, mental anguish, and extreme emotional distress” as a result of the city’s actions against him.

The claim specifically called out Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson and two other detectives, Edward Wodnicki and Michael Theis. The counterclaim says police released “false and misleading information,” which led media outlets to report that Smollett might have arranged the alleged attack.  

It also criticized the city for using claims from the Osundairo brothers, the men Smollett was accused of paying to carry out the alleged attack, to pursue criminal charges against him.

In response to the countersuit, Chicago police issued a statement Wednesday saying “The City stands by its original complaint and will continue to pursue this litigation.”

The city added, “The judge in this case has already ruled in our favor once, and we fully expect to be successful in defeating these counterclaims.”

Kim Foxx Announces Reelection Effort 

The same day as Smollet’s counterclaim, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx officially announced that she is running for reelection. Foxx currently has four challengers fighting for her spot and has the outrage over the Jussie Smollett case hanging over her head. 

Foxx recused herself from the case before Smollett’s arrest, saying she did so because she had conversations about the investigation with one of Smollett’s relatives. But a few months later, her office released documents citing a different reason, showing that she was advised to withdraw based on unfounded rumors that she was related to Smollett. Though she disagreed with the advice and called the rumors racist, she complied with the recommendation. 

Foxx’s office also faced intense scrutiny for abruptly dropping the charges against Smollett, which left both police officials and community leaders confused and frustrated. 

At the time, Chicago Police Department commander Ed Wodnicki called the reversal of charges a “punch in the gut” and said prosecutors did not discuss their decision with the police department prior to announcing it. 

Meanwhile, then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel and superintendent Johnson spoke out against the decision. “This is without a doubt, a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you are in a position of influence and power you’ll get treated one way, other people will be treated another way,” Emanuel said.

In her campaign ad, she admitted to mishandling the Smollett case but argued that her opponents are attacking her personally over it to “undercut progress.” 

 “Truth is, I didn’t handle it well. I own that. I’m making changes in my office to make sure we do better. That’s what reform is about,” Foxx said.

But her opponents say it’s too late, and many believe the lack of trust surrounding Foxx’s leadership will affect her in her bid for reelection. 

See what others are saying: (Fox News) (The Washington Post) (Chicago Sun-Times

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AOC and Sanders Ask for HIV Medicine Patent to be Rejected

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  • A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that biotech company Gilead Sciences suspended the development of a potentially safer HIV prevention drug for five years in 2005 so they could continue to profit from their current monopoly on the market, despite the fact that it was less safe. 
  • Gilead is asking now asking to extend the patent on the new drug while PrEP4All is asking for this patent to be rejected. 
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also wrote a joint letter urging the Trump administration to reject this request, calling the alleged practice a “disgrace.”
  • Gilead has denied these accusations.

Petition Filed Against Gilead

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) are calling on the Trump administration to reject a patent extension request from Gilead Sciences after the company was accused of delaying the development of a safer HIV prevention drug. 

A petition filed by advocacy group PrEP4All Collaboration alleges that when Gilead suspended the development of a newer and potentially safer HIV prevention drug in 2005, it did so in order to maximize its monopoly on profits from its less-safe drug that was already on the market. The petition says they wanted to leave this old drug on the market until its patent expired, and before generic competition came up. The company did not submit the new drug, tenofovir alafenamide, or TAF, to the Food and Drug Administration until 2010. It was approved in 2015. 

According to a report from the Washington Post, Gilead is currently requesting that its patent on TAF be extended for another three years. PrEP4All is asking the Patent and Trademark Office to reject this request because of this allegation. 

TAF is meant to prevent HIV infections via a process called pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP. Extending the patent would make sure they had a monopoly on the drug. 

Letter from Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez

PrEP4All’s fight got a new push of support on Monday when Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez gave their support. In a letter to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office obtained by The Guardian, the leaders condemned Gilead for these accusations. 

“It is an absolute disgrace that in America, a greedy drug company like Gilead can deprive hundreds of thousands of Americans of lifesaving HIV medicine to extract more profit, lie about it, and then have the audacity to ask the US government to award it with a longer monopoly to reap tens of billions more in profits,” Sanders wrote. 

Ocasio-Cortez said this practice “inhibited efforts to end the HIV epidemic.”

Together, the two urged the Trump administration to “not reward Gilead for this immoral behavior.” 

If the Trump administration followed their requests, it would not be the first time they took action against Gilead. In November, the administration sued the company in a patent infringement case. They accused the company of profiting off of taxpayer-funded research without giving taxpayer money back. 

Statements From Those Involved

Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders have not been the only ones to speak out. 

“Gilead has not only intentionally delayed clinical development of a drug to artificially manipulate its eligibility for a patent-term extension, but it has done so despite the apparent harm to patients,” said attorney Christopher Morten, who filed PrEP4All’s petition in a statement to the Washington Post. 

The Post says that the petition cites statements made by the company’s executives in 2011, where some indicated a desire to “avoid cannibalizing sales of the old drug” with the expectation that TAF could maintain the patent longevity of their HIV drug franchise. The petition also says that Gilead stated that clinical trials had indicated that TAF is safer than older drugs. A study funded by them found that restricting patients from the new drug could cause 16,000 deaths over the course of nine years.

Still, the Washington Post said the outcome of PrEP4All’s petition is not set in stone. 

“Odds of success are steep because the patent office will review such third-party petitions only in ‘extraordinary’ circumstances, according to its rules,” their report said. 

“Patient safety is of foremost importance to us, and any implication that Gilead delayed the development of a drug known to be safer than [the older drug] is false,’’ Gilead spokesperson Ryan McKeel said in a statement obtained by the Post.  

See what others were saying: (The Washington Post) (The Guardian) (The Advocate)

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Florida Shootout Involving Hijacked UPS Truck Ends With 4 Dead

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  • Two armed robbers hijacked a UPS truck and held the driver hostage in an attempt to escape police on Thursday.
  • The police chase ended with a shootout that left both suspects, the UPS driver, and another civilian dead. 
  • Many are condemning the police officers for their actions and blaming them for the death of the innocent victims.

Armed Robbery Leads to Shootout

Two suspects and two civilians were killed in gunfire on Thursday after an armed robbery attempt led to a violent shootout.

The suspects, identified as Lamar Alexander and Ronnie Jerome Hill, held up a jewelry store in Coral Gables, Florida yesterday afternoon. Gunfire was exchanged between the thieves and a store employee, and police arrived shortly after. 

One female store employee was injured and taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital, NBC Miami reported

The suspects escaped in a van but ditched their getaway vehicle about a mile away from the jewelry store. They then hijacked a UPS truck, holding the driver hostage at gunpoint, local authorities said at a press conference Thursday night.

Police chased the robbers across two counties. Approximately an hour after the UPS driver was abducted, the pursuit ended with a shootout at a crowded intersection in Miramar. A total of 19 officers from five different agencies were firing at the UPS truck.

Videos from the deadly exchange have been posted on Twitter, showing police officers crouching behind civilian vehicles in standstill traffic as they shot at the truck. The gunfire is thundering and consistent.

The two suspects were fatally shot in the crossfire. The UPS driver was also killed, as well as another innocent bystander sitting in her car. 

When George Piro, the special agent who heads the FBI’s Miami Field Office, was asked if it’s possible that the civilians were killed by bullets fired by police officers, he remained vague. 

“As I mentioned earlier, it is very very early on in the investigation and it would be completely inappropriate to discuss that,” Piro said. “We have just began to process the crime scene. As you can imagine this is going to be a very complicated crime scene.”

Innocent Victims

The UPS driver has been identified by his family as Frank Ordoñez, a 27-year-old father of two young girls. According to his sister, Sara Ordoñez, he had just been promoted at work for the holiday season. 

“He was excited because he was saving up to buy an apartment, a home,” Sara Ordoñez told the New York Times. “We didn’t have it so easy, so he wanted to give the best for his daughters. Everything he would do was for his daughters.”

A GoFundMe has been created for Ordoñez’s family. 

UPS released a statement on their official Twitter page addressing the loss of their employee.

“We are deeply saddened to learn a UPS service provider was a victim of this senseless act of violence,” it said.

The second slain civilian has not yet been publicly identified.

Criticism of Police Action

An interview with Joe Merino, Frank Ordoñez’s stepfather, revealed that he blames the death of his son on the police’s “negligence” and “disregard for life for a victim.” 

“We’ve all seen hostage situations where local police surround the house, SWAT comes in, there’s a negotiator… and everyone walks away alive,” Merino said. “They didn’t give Frank that opportunity.” 

Many others condemned the decisions made by law enforcement, calling for the officers to be held responsible for the civilian deaths.

See what others are saying: (CBS) (NPR) (Washington Post)

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Nearly 700,000 People to Lose Food Stamp Aid Under New Policy

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  • A new rule was finalized on Wednesday that tightens work restrictions for the federal food stamp program.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 688,000 people will be cut from the program when the rule takes effect next year.
  • Those in favor of the change argue that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs, while critics say it will hurt them more than it will help them.

New Rule

Trump administration finalized a new rule that could remove almost 700,000 people from the federal food stamp program. The rule, announced in a press release on Wednesday, creates stricter work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) final rule promotes work for able-bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 49 without dependents,” the press release said.  

Under current regulations, this demographic can receive three months of SNAP benefits throughout a three year period, unless they work or undergo professional training for at least 20 hours a week. 

States have had the ability to waive this time limit to account for economic turbulence, and counties with unemployment rates as low as 2.5% were eligible for these remissions. The new rule will make 6% the minimum unemployment rate to qualify for these waivers, according to the Washington Post.

It will take effect on April 1, 2020.

Impact on Americans

While the USDA originally estimated that up to 750,000 people would be cut from SNAP with this change, now they have adjusted that number to 688,000. 

The finalized regulation is the first of three proposed measures to limit access to the federal food stamp program. A new study by the Urban Institute found that if the other two rules are approved, nearly 4 million people would lose access to food benefits.

After the new rule was proposed in February, there was an abundance of public comments imploring the administration not to go through with it. 

But the USDA was not swayed and held strong in their argument that SNAP should be a form of temporary assistance instead of a long-term lifestyle. 

“Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream,” said Sonny Perdue, Secretary of Agriculture. “We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.”

Those who support the rule are optimistic that it will push unemployed individuals to find jobs. 

“The changes reflect the belief that more Americans can enter and reenter the workforce,” Brandon Lipps, the USDA’s Deputy Under Secretary, told the Washington Post. “So they can know the dignity of work.”

Critics of the change were extremely disappointed upon the news of the rule’s finalization, deeming it a step in the wrong direction.

“The Trump administration is driving the vulnerable into hunger just as the Christmas season approaches,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, said on the floor Wednesday. “It is heartless. It is cruel. It exposes a deep and shameful cruelness and hypocrisy in this administration.”

Rep. Marcia L. Fudge, chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee’s subcommittee on nutrition, released a press statement on Wednesday after hearing the news.

“The Administration refuses to take an honest look at the people they are targeting with this rule and what challenges they face that contribute to their hunger…” she said. “…Instead of considering hungry individuals and their unique struggles and needs, the Department has chosen to paint them with the broadest brush, demonizing them as lazy and undeserving.”

See what others are saying: (New York Times) (NPR) (NBC)

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