Since the end of January, many have been trying to figure out what exactly is going on with Jussie Smollett. Following initial reports that the actor had been attacked outside of a Chicago Subway while filming the Fox series Empire, fans have questioned everything from whether he was actually attacked to just how much trust we should put in the Chicago Police Department's statements. The tale included former Empire extras, a racist and homophobic letter being sent to the Empire set, and Jussie declaring himself the "gay Tupac."
On the morning of Feb. 21, the case took a major turn, with Smollett turning himself in to Chicago police after being considered the orchestrator of what they're now calling a hoax. For those who might have been following the situation or just need some clarification on the ordeal, here's a timeline of the case and everything we know thus far.
Jan. 22, 2019: The letter
Less than a week before the attack, a letter arrived at the offices of Fox's Empire is filmed. It was addressed to Smollett and not only contained racist and homophobic language, but is said to have contained white powder.
Jan. 29, 2019: The attack
On the morning of Jan. 29, 2019, multiple news outlets reported that Smollett had been hospitalized after an attack at 2 a.m. Initial reports said that Smollett had been on his way to a Chicago Subway when he was attacked by two white men outside of the restaurant; the men, who wore ski masks, were said to have shouted "this is MAGA country" while beating him, putting a noose around his neck, and ultimately fracturing one of his ribs, although a spokesperson from the Chicago Police Department told Complex that "there is no report of that being said." From there, the Chicago Police Department launched an investigation into the reported attack, looking into it as "a possible hate crime."
Jan. 30, 2019: The security footage
The Chicago Police Department's chief communications officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted that "detectives [had] located a surveillance camera that shows potential persons of interest wanted for questioning." Images from the footage were distributed in hopes of helping police catch these individuals.
Jan. 31, 2019: The Smollett family responds
Smollett's family released a statement on the attack: "We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice." After calling the attack "domestic terrorism," they continued: "We want people to understand these targeted hate crimes are happening to our sisters, brothers and our gender non-conforming siblings, many who reside within the intersection of multiple identities, on a monthly, weekly, and sometimes even daily basis all across our country."
Feb. 1, 2019: Jussie speaks
One day after his family spoke out on the incident, and days after everyone from John Legend to the NAACP released statements, Jussie released a statement of his own via Essence, saying, “My body is strong but my soul is stronger. 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.”
Feb. 2, 2019: "I'm the gay Tupac!"
After dropping his first statement, Jussie performed on the Troubadour stage in West Hollywood, where he spoke out about the situation during a live performance. After clarifying that he wasn't hospitalized (he'd just visited a doctor) and that his ribs weren't broken, he made it clear that he fought back against his assailants. Smollett was met with supportive cheers and applause, and went on to call himself "the gay Tupac."
Feb. 12, 2019: Smollett's phone records submitted, rejected
Smollett cooperated with the police investigation, including submitting his phone records from the night of the attack. However, according to USA Today, the documents were rejected by police; Sgt. Rocco Alioto stated that the phone records did "not meet the burden for a criminal investigation as they were limited and heavily redacted."
Feb. 13, 2019: Arrests made
Eleven days later, Chicago Police arrested two men in connection with the attack, later identified as Nigerian brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo. According to The Wrap, Olabinjo appeared as an extra on Empire in 2015.
Feb. 14, 2019: The Good Morning America interview
ABC scored Smollett's first full-length interview after the attack, where he said he was "pissed off" at people questioning his story and the incident.
That evening, more details surfaced about the Osundairo brothers. Chicago police raided their home, seizing five bottles of bleach, electronics, shoes, and other items. Police also stated that the brothers had left for Nigeria on the day of the attack.
As this information was released, some media reports indicated that Chicago PD believed Smollett had staged the attack. Guglielmi tweeted that the media reports alleging that the attack was a hoax were "unconfirmed by case detectives," as there was "no evidence to support their reporting." He referred to the supposed CPD sources these outlets had spoken to as "uninformed and inaccurate."
Feb. 15, 2019: The brothers are released
While Chicago PD continued to dispute reports that they thought the attack was staged, the two men they arrested were released without being charged. "Due to new evidence as a result of today's interrogations," Guglielmi tweeted, "the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete."
Feb. 16, 2019: Was it staged?
The next day, more reports suggested that Jussie orchestrated the attack. CNN reported that two police sources had indicated that Chicago PD believed Jussie had paid the two men in question to participate in this staged attack. That same night, Deadline confirmed via a statement from Chicago PD that the department had shifted the trajectory of their investigation "based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident." Two days later, Smollett's attorneys said that while they'd keep an "active dialogue" with Chicago PD, there were no plans to meet with detectives.
Feb. 19, 2019: The brothers speak
Amid questions of Jussie's role on Empire being diminished, sources told CBS Chicago that the brothers, who were previously arrested as suspects, said that Jussie was the one who sent the letter to the Empire set and that the attack was orchestrated because the letter didn't receive a "bigger reaction."
Feb. 20, 2019: Jussie is a suspect
Guglielmi returned to Twitter with an official statement: "Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury." Attorneys representing Smollett told People that they were mounting an "aggressive defense," noting that, “Like any other citizen, Mr. Smollett 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."
Feb. 21, 2019: Jussie is in police custody
Early Thursday morning, Smollett turned himself in to Chicago police. The resulting class 4 felony charges against Smollett could result in up to three years in prison and an estimated $25,000 in additional fines.
During the subsequent press conference (which you can see in full below), CPD superintendent Eddie Johnson called this incident a "publicity stunt" and "a scar Chicago didn't earn and certainly didn't deserve." They repeated claims that Smollett sent the original letter that started the entire ordeal and confirmed that he'd paid the two brothers $3,500 for their part in the incident. The reasoning? According to Johnson, Smollett was "dissastified" with the amount of money he was making on Empire. Chicago PD also called his Good Morning America appearance "shameful" and asked that Jussie apologize to the city of Chicago.
Later that day, Smollett was released from police custody after posting $10,000 cash towards the $100,00 bond he was being held on. Multiple outlets reported that he made his way to the Empire set. Fox, who'd stood behind Smollett while this case developed, released a statement saying that they "are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options." Meanwhile, Smollett's legal team released their own statement: “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon at the expense of Mr. Smollett and notably, on the eve of a mayoral election. Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Feb. 22, 2019: Smollet cut from final episodes of Empire
On Friday, Fox announced that Smollett's character Jamal will not appear in the last two episodes of Empire's fifth season, which are currently being filmed in Chicago. A statement from the executives behind Empire, which include Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, and Dennis Hammer, said that the "disturbing" nature of the allegations lead to their decision.
"The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us. Jussie has been an important member of our Empire family for the past five years and we care about him deeply," it read. "While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season." As of right now, there's no word on if Smollett's character will be removed completely from the series.
The Hollywood Reporter looked into Smollett's contract situation, and while unconfirmed, it's said that Smollett went from reportedly making around $40,000 per episode to $125,000 per episode, although he might have been signed to a 360 deal. Regardless of that, one source is said to have told THR that there was no word of Smollett speaking to Fox regarding being unhappy with his salary, which calls into question the motivation the Chicago Police Department issued during their press conference on February 21.
Feb. 23, 2019: More questions...
Less than 24 hours after the news of his scenes in Empire being cut, a number of questions regarding Jussie’s case came about. Initially, there were reports claiming that Jussie had modeled his alleged hoax after the attack Empire executive producer Lee Daniels’ cousin suffered in January, which Daniels said only occurred because he is gay. Meanwhile, the FBI said that they weren’t certain that Jussie sent the letter that kicked this whole ordeal off in the first place. Finally, there was talk that Jussie’s Empire character might be recast.
Feb. 24, 2019: What was the check for?
Amidst support from Empire co-star Terrence Howard, TMZ reported that the $3,500 check that Chicago PD said Jussie sent to the alleged fake attackers wasn’t for a hoax attack at all, but for fitness training for a video Jussie was planning on shooting. The memo line on the check read "5 week Nutrition/Workout program Don't Go.”
Mar. 7, 2019: Hospital employees fired, internal investigation begins
CBS2 Chicago reported that dozens of workers and nurses at Northwestern Hospital are said to have been fired for accessing Smollett’s hospital records inappropriately. This was the medical facility that Smollett was treated at after his alleged attack.
That same day, the Chicago PD launched an internal investigation into information leaks that went to the media. In a statement, Chicago PD Sergeant Rocco said he "would like to point out that a lot of the information out there was inaccurate and there were numerous agencies involved in this investigation. As a standard procedure when there are allegations of information being leaked, an internal investigation has been opened and we are also looking at our vulnerabilities."
Mar. 8, 2019: Jussie gets indicted
A day later, a Cook County grand jury indicted Jussie on 16 felony counts (he was originally charged with one felony count for filing a false police report). According to ABC 7, the grand jury hit Jussie with two separate sets of charges, one based on what he originally told police about the attack, and the second based on a second interview later that day.
ABC 7 also reported that each set of charges carries a sentence of probation; the thought is that Jussie would plea out and not have to face jail time.
Mar. 11, 2019: The brothers feel they were "taken advantage of"
Gloria Schmidt, the lawyer of brothers Abindola and Olabinjo Osundairo, made an appearance on Good Morning America to speak out on their behalf. "My clients were just taken advantage of by someone they trusted. This was someone who the brothers thought could help their career. Obviously, Mr. Smollett has connections, he had a good position with Fox, so this was someone that they had trusted to consider their best interests."
Schmidt also reiterated that the $3,500 check was for fitness training, but did indicate that it might have also been used as a part of this alleged attack. "It's unfortunately," Schmidt said, "a very complicated relationship for them because if you are friends and I'm saying, 'Hey, I am going to pay you for training, I am also asking you to do me a favor'... and the favor was to stage the attack."
Mar. 14, 2019: Jussie pleads not guilty
Smollett made an appearance in court to enter a plea of not guilty to the 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct he's facing. He's set to appear back in court on April 17.
Mar. 26, 2019: All charges dropped
On Tuesday morning, after word of an emergency hearing in Smollett's case was being held, his attorneys released a statement saying that "all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him." State District Attorney Kim Foxx also released a statement, saying that "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."
Feb. 11, 2020: Smollett is indicted by special prosecutor
Almost a year to the day of the initial arrests being made in this case, Jussie Smollett was indicted by special prosecutor Dan Webb on six counts of disorderly conduct in his case. Webb released a statement, saying “further prosecution of Jussie Smollett is in the interest of justice." Webb was appointed to this case back in August of 2019 to investigate why all of the charges against Jussie were dropped back in March of 2019.
Word is that Smollett would have been facing 50 years in prison if there was a conviction on all 16 counts against him in 2019. Smollett is due back in court on February 24, 2020, and if convicted, could face jail time.