The case against Jussie Smollett has taken several shocking twists and turns since the Empire actor first told police he had been the victim of a vicious hate crime nearly two months ago.
Smollett told police that early in 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 questions about the alleged attack increased as the investigation progressed, and culminated on Feb. 21, when Chicago Police announced that Smollett’s story was a hoax and he was arrested for allegedly filing a false police report. He was later indicted on 16 felony counts.
Nearly a month later, on March 26, prosecutors made the surprising announcement that they were dropping all charges against the actor.
“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. We stand by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation and our decision to approve charges in this case.”
Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said at the time of his arrest that the actor staged the attack on himself because he was dissatisfied with his salary.
“Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Johnson said.
Smollett denied the charges against him after they were dropped, saying after his emergency court hearing that “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of the charges against me.”
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 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 ultimately identified as Nigerian brothers Abel and Ola Osundairo, 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 Osundairo 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 Osundairo 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.
March 26: Cook County prosecutors announce all charges against Smollett have been dropped
After an unexpected emergency court hearing, Cook County prosecutors confirmed that all charges against Smollett had been dropped.
“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.
We stand by the Chicago Police Department’s investigation and our decision to approve charges in this case.”
Smollett’s lawyers said that the actor’s record “has been wiped clean.”
Smollett said after the hearing, “This has been an incredibly difficult time. Honestly one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith and a man that has knowledge of my history and I would not bring my family, our lives or the movement through a fire like this. I just wouldn’t.”
Later, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson took part in a joint press conference. Johnson said “he stands behind the detectives’ investigation, while Emanuel fumed that dropping the charges amounts to a “whitewash of justice.”
“This is an unbelievable not just whitewash of justice, this is a person now who has been let off scot free with no sense of accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions,” Emanuel told reporters.
March 28: Smollett Ordered to Pay $130,000 to Offset Investigation Costs
The City of Chicago sends Smollett a letter ordering him to pay $130,106.15 to offset the costs of the investigation. The sum would be separate from the $10,000 bond he agreed to forfeit when the charges were dropped.
The letter says that over two dozen detectives spent weeks investigating the crime, but that “Ultimately, the Chicago police investigation revealed that you knowingly filed a police report and had in fact orchestrated your own attack.”
Earlier thatday, Smollet’s lawyer Tina Glandian defends the actor’s innocence in an appearance on NBC’sToday show. She says that Smollett has been further victimized by claims that he had faked the attack, and that he was just hoping to move on with his life.
“What he’s been through after the fact has really been a much harsher attack than what he endured that night,” Glandian says.
Glandian says that she is not concerned that the Department of Justice and the FBI are continuing to investigate Smollett. She also suggested that the Osundairo brothers might have their race by wearing whiteface, pointing to a video one of the brothers posted online wearing white makeup to imitate the comic book villain the Joker.
President Trump also weighs in on the situation on Twitter, writing that he wants the FBI and the Department of Justice to look into the investigation.
“FBI & DOJ to review the outrageous Jussie Smollett case in Chicago. It is an embarrassment to our Nation!” Trump tweets.
Additional reporting by Gina Martinez.
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