By Tara Law
Updated: February 21, 2019 5:33 PM ET | Originally published: February 18, 2019

In the weeks since Empire actor Jussie Smollett first told police that he had been the victim of a vicious hate crime, the truth about his case has become increasingly murky.

Smollett told police that early on the morning of Jan. 29 in Chicago, two assailants berated him with racist and homophobic slurs, beat him and put a rope around his neck. Given the brutality and hateful nature of the alleged assault —Smollett is an openly gay black actor whose Empire character is also openly gay — his story received widespread media attention almost immediately.

But police on Thursday said an investigation into Smollett’s allegations found that it had been a hoax. The actor staged the attack on himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters in a news conference.

“Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said.

Smollett was charged Wednesday night with felony disorderly conduct in filing a false police report and turned himself into police on Thursday morning. He was released Thursday afternoon after posting a $100,000 bond.

Lawyers for Smollett said they plan to mount an “aggressive defense” in a statement, adding that the actor “enjoys the presumption of innocence, particularly when there has been an investigation like this one where information, both true and false, has been repeatedly leaked,” according to the Associated Press.

Here’s what you need to know about Smollett’s allegations and how the story surrounding them has evolved over time.

January 29: Police say they’re investigating an alleged assault

Jussie Smollett reports to police that he was attacked in the early hours of Jan. 29 in downtown Chicago. He says that he was picking up food at a Subway sandwich shop when he was approached by two masked men. The actor claims that the two men beat him while barraging him with racist and homophobic slurs and saying, “This is MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. The men then allegedly put a rope around his neck, poured an unknown chemical on him and ran away.

Smollett then goes back to his apartment, and his manager calls the police. When the police arrive, they find that Smollett has cuts and scrapes, and that there is a rope around his neck. Police say that the suspects appeared to have beaten Smollett with their hands. Smollett later tells a reporter that he did not take the rope off his neck before police arrived because he wanted to show it to investigators.

After police advise him to seek medical attention, Smollett goes to Northwestern Hospital.

Later that day, police say that they are investigating the alleged assault on Smollett as a possible hate crime.

January 30: Surveillance footage released

Police release surveillance footage that shows Smollett walking to his apartment after visiting the Subway. Later that day, a police spokesperson tweets photos of “persons of interest” in the case.

Police say that there were gaps in the footage, and that none of the video showed an attack on Smollett.

A police spokesperson says the FBI is also investigating a threatening letter that was allegedly sent to Smollett at the Chicago studio where Empire is filmed.

January 31: Police say footage shows Smollett with a rope around his neck

Police announce that they found footage that shows Smollett arriving at home with a rope around his neck. The footage does not show Smollett being attacked, but police say that they still have a significant amount of video footage to analyze.

February 1: Smollett speaks out for the first time about alleged attack

Through his publicist, Jussie Smollett releases his first public comments about the attack.

“My body is strong but my soul is stronger,” the statement says, according to The New York Times. “More importantly, I want to say thank you. The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”

Responding to those who have raised suspicions about his claims, Smollett adds that his account had been “100 percent factual and consistent on every level,” and that he is cooperating with authorities.

“Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served,” the statement says.

February 2: Smollett makes first public appearance

In his first public appearance since the alleged attack, Smollett performs at a concert at the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood.

“I have so many words on my heart that I want to say, but the most important thing I can say is thank you so much, and that I’m O.K.,” Smollett tells the audience, according to The New York Times. The Times reports that several attendees said that they had bought tickets to the concert specifically to show their support for Smollett.

February 11: Smollett gives redacted phone records to police

Smollett hands over redacted phone records to police. Police later say that the files are too significantly altered to be useful for the investigation.

Smollett later issues a statement to say that the files had been redacted to “protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.”

February 13: Two Nigerian brothers arrested in connection with the investigation

Two men, who are described as Nigerian brothers, are picked up by police in connection with the investigation at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago. Smollett’s attorneys later acknowledge that one of the men is Smollett’s personal trainer, who they say had been hired to help the actor prepare for a music video.

February 14: Smollett opens up about alleged attack—and reacts to some calling it a hoax—on Good Morning America

Speaking to Robin Roberts on Good Morning America, Smollett says that he was “forever changed” by the attack.

He adds that he is “pissed off” that some people doubt his version of the attack.

“It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth. You don’t even want to see the truth,” Smollett says.

The police also announce that they are questioning the two “persons of interest” arrested at O’Hare, who they say had been recorded on surveillance cameras near the attack. The two men are not suspects, but are being questioned because they might have been in the area of the attack during the incident, police say.

Later that night, the Chicago Police Department officially disputes news reports citing police sources who claimed the attack was a hoax, saying that the “supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”

February 15: Police release Nigerian brothers without charges

Police announce that they have released the two Nigerian brothers without charges. A police spokesperson says that investigators have uncovered new evidence, and that “detectives have additional investigative work to complete.”

February 16: Police say they want to interview Smollett again

Chicago Police say that they intend to interview Smollett again.

Smollett’s lawyers said in a statement to CNN that the actor felt “further victimized” by accusations that the assault was a hoax.

“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” the statement says.

February 17: Police say they will not confirm details of the investigation without interviewing Smollett again

Police say that they’re still trying to interview Smollett because the direction of the investigation has “shifted.” One of Smollett’s spokespeople declines to comment on whether Smollett had consented to another interview.

“We’re not confirming, denying or commenting on anything until we can talk to him and we can corroborate some information that we’ve gotten,” a police spokesperson says.

February 18: Smollett’s lawyers says he does not plan to speak with police again

Smollett’s attorneys say that there aren’t plans for the actor to meet with police for a follow-up interview. A spokesperson for the lawyers says that they “will keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf,” according to a statement sent to the Associated Press.

February 19: Police discount a tip about Smollett being seen in an elevator with the two brothers who were later arrested

Chicago police dismissed a tip they received that Smollett was seen in an elevator in his apartment building on the night of his alleged attack with the two brothers that police had arrested and released. Police spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi said the tip was “unfounded as it was not supported by video evidence obtained by detectives.”

Chicago police said that the two brothers who were arrested and released have met police and prosecutors at the courthouse, according to the Associated Press.

February 20: Chicago prosecutor recuses herself from investigation

Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx recused herself from the case “out of an abundance of caution,” according to her office.

“Out of an abundance of caution, the decision to recuse herself was made to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” Foxx’s spokesperson Tandra Simonton said, the Associated Press reports. Simonton did not specify who Foxx might be familiar with in the case.

The AP also reports that in 2007, Smollett was accused of identifying himself as his younger brother when he was pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, citing details of a misdemeanor complaint first reported on by NBC News. According to the complaint, Smollett gave the name of his brother, Jake Smollett, and signed a false name on a promise to appear in court.

Smollett was charged with false impersonation, driving under the influence and driving without a valid license. He pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of giving false information, along with the other charges, and later finished an alcohol education and treatment program as part of his sentencing terms.

On Wednesday, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment addressed rumors that Smollett would be written out of Empire.

“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the said in a statement.

February 21: Smollett arrested after being charged with allegedly filing a false police report

Chicago police said Thursday that Smollett was taken into custody on the felony charge of disorderly conduct in falsifying a police report. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told reporters Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was unhappy with his salary.

Smollett paid the two Nigerian brothers — who were released without any charges — $3,500 by check to carry out the hate crime attack, Johnson said. The allegedly staged attack came after Smollett sent himself a letter with racist and homophobic language to earn attention, according to Johnson.

“This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve,” Johnson said.

Smollett was released Thursday about two hours after his bond hearing, during which a judge set his bail at $100,000. He was ordered to surrender his passport and not to contact the two brothers arrested and released in the case.

Additional reporting by Gina Martinez.

Write to Tara Law at


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