By Christianna Silva
On Tuesday, March 26, the Illinois state attorney's office dropped the charges against Empire actor Jussie Smollett relating to the assault he reported to Chicago police in January 2019, CNBC reported. Thea actor had previously been indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report after allegedly staging the assault. Throughout the charges, Smollett had maintained his innocence.
What was originally reported as a potential hate crime has grown considerably more complicated: Within one month of the alleged attack, Chicago police dropped their investigation into two “persons of interest,” and announced that they were now classifying Smollett as a suspect following accusations that he allegedly orchestrated the attack on himself. For his part, Smollett previously denied the allegations; on Thursday, his lawyers told Deadline, “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. Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
This comes at a time in which attacks against LGBTQ+ people of color are on the rise. According to 2017 hate crime statistics, released by the FBI in November 2018, there was a five percent increase in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes and a 16 percent increase in anti-black hate crimes. During the same year, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released a report showing that there were 52 anti-LGBTQ+ homicides, the highest number ever recorded by the group. 60 percent of the victims were black.
Details are continuing to emerge, but this is a full timeline of what we now know of the alleged Smollett attack.
January 22: Smollett reports receiving a letter at the Empire set with “MAGA” written in red ink on the return address of the envelope. Inside the envelope was white powder, which turned out to be a crushed pain reliever, accompanied by a threat in cut-out letters: “You will die black f-g.”
January 29: Smollett tells officers that on Tuesday, January 29th around 2 a.m., two white men approached him wearing ski masks outside a Subway restaurant in Chicago. He says the men beat him up, poured bleach on him, and put a noose around his neck. The Chicago Tribune reports that the men also said, “This is MAGA country,” and TMZ reports that the men called Smollett “that f----t Empire n----r.”
After the alleged attack, he checked into Northwestern Memorial Hospital and was reported to be in good condition.
January 30: Chicago police report that they are reviewing surveillance camera footage, but none of the videos show the attack. One video, however, shows two potential “persons of interest,” according to Anthony Guglielmi, the Chief Communications Officer for Chicago police. The surveillance footage is dark, and their faces aren’t immediately distinguishable.
January 31: Smollett’s family issues a statement condemning the attack, saying, “To be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime.”
They added, “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. Oftentimes ending fatally, these are inhumane acts of domestic terrorism and they should be treated as such. They will continue to occur until we hold each other accountable,” according to Billboard.
President Donald Trump tells reporters at the White House that the Smollett story “doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned,” according to the Associated Press.
February 1: Smollett issues a statement to Essence, saying he is doing OK and thanking everyone for their support. “I am working with authorities and have been 100 [percent] factual and consistent on every level,” the statement reads. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”
February 2: Smollett gives a sold-out concert in a West Hollywood nightclub. “I had to be here tonight, y'all. I can't let [them] win,” he said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I have so many words in my heart. The most important thing I have to say is thank you so much and that I'm OK. I'm not fully healed yet, but I'm going to. And I'm gonna stand strong with y'all.”
February 12: Smollett turns over some redacted phone records to the Chicago police, which detectives requested as part of their investigation. He says that his music manager was on the phone with him at the time of the attack, but police said that the phone records were too heavily redacted to sufficiently corroborate his story. According to the Associated Press, Smollett says he redacted some of the information on his phone to protect the privacy of people not relevant to the incident.
February 14: Smollett reassures viewers on Good Morning America that his story is true after unsubstantiated reports begin surfacing that he may have orchestrated the incident.
"I want young people, young members of the LGTBQ community, young black children to know how strong they are." @JussieSmollett thinks people need to hear "the truth" after his attack. https://t.co/b5efiP0JCG pic.twitter.com/YGVIDMipgC
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 14, 2019
Hours after the show, Chicago police announced that they are interviewing the two persons of interest captured on video, adding that the men, brothers in their 20s, were not suspects, but were in the “area of concern and are being questioned.” They are later identified as Nigerian brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo.
Meanwhile, producers of Empire say they are not writing Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, off of the show, FOX said in a statement.
February 15: Guglielmi tells the Chicago Tribune that the two “persons of interest” are considered potential suspects, but have not yet been charged. Less than 12 hours later, he issues a statement via Twitter that the Chicago police released both the suspects “due to new evidence,” but did not disclose what that was.
February 16: Police say the investigation “shifted” after detectives interviewed the brothers. Two law enforcement sources tell CNN that the Chicago police are investigating whether Smollett paid the two brothers to stage the attack, following undisclosed evidence that suggested that may be the case.
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” CPD says in a statement. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Police say they requested another interview with Smollett, whose lawyers claim the actor feels “victimized” by reports that he orchestrated his own assault, according to the Associated Press.
In a statement to CNN, Smollett’s lawyers said: "As a victim of a hate crime who has cooperated with the police investigation, Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."
February 19: Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx recuses herself from the case “out of an abundance of caution” because of her “familiarity with potential witnesses in the case,” according to the Chicago Sun-Times. No more information was released at the time, but Foxx later says she recused herself because she had conversations with a member of Smollett’s family after the incident was initially reported, according to the Associated Press.
Sources tell Deadline that Empire has decided to slash Smollett’s upcoming scenes in the show.
Two of Smollett’s siblings, Jurnee Smollett-Bell and Jocqui Smollett, post a quote attributed to Malcolm X on Instagram that seems to put the blame on the media.
“This is the media, the irresponsible media,” the post reads. “It will make the criminal look like he's the victim and make the victim look like he's the criminal. If you aren’t careful, the media will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.”
February 20: Guglielmi tweets that Cook County has filed felony criminal charges against Smollett for disorderly conduct and filing a false police report. Police also say that the two brothers who were originally questioned about the attack will testify before a grand jury.
Meanwhile, 20th Century Fox TV and Fox Entertainment tell Deadline, “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.”
February 21: Guglielmi tweets that Smollett is under arrest and in custody of detectives after he was charged with one count of felony disorderly conduct for filing a false police report. His bail hearing is set for later today.
Chicago police accused Smollett of staging the attack because “he was dissatisfied with his salary” on Empire.
“Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago police Supt. Eddie Johnson said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.”
In a statement obtained by MTV News, 20th Century Fox and Fox Entertainment said: “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.”
Smollett's bail was reportedly set at $100,000. TMZ reports that following his bail hearing, the actor showed up to the Empire set, where he was slated to film a scene. There, he reportedly told the show's cast and crew, "I’m sorry I’ve put you all through this and not answered any calls. I wanted to say I’m sorry and, you know me, I would never do this to any of you, you are my family. I swear to God, I did not do this.”
February 22: In a statement obtained by MTV News, Empire's executive producers said they would be writing Smollett's character Jamal Lyon out of the show's final two episodes, so as to minimize disruption on set and impact on the cast and crew. They added: “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. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out."
March 8: A grand jury has indicted Smollett on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct connected to falsifying a police report, ABC reports. The Cook County jury delivered the counts in two separate sets of charges, related to each of the two interviews Smollett gave to police the night of, and the day after the alleged attack. According to CBS, the indictment claims “Jussie Smollett knew that at the time … there was no reasonable ground for believing that such offenses had been committed." NBC notes Smollett and his team have continued to deny the claims made against him.
March 26: All charges made against Smollett have officially been dropped. In a statement, the actor's lawyers explained, "Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him. Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th." The statement added, "Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends, and career."
In a statement obtained by MTV News, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said: "Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed."
"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 Cook County State Attorney's Office said in a statement, according to CBS.
Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson have both openly disagreed with the decision to drop charges against Smollett. “If he wanted to clear his name, the way to do that is in a court of law so everyone can see the evidence," Johnson said.
Per Vulture, Smollett appeared at a press conference on Tuesday, where he said: "I’ve been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one. I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of. This has been an incredibly difficult time, honestly, one of the worst of my entire life. But I am a man of faith and I am 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. So I want to thank my legal counsel from the bottom of my heart and I would also like to thank the state of Illinois for attempting to do what’s right. Now I’d like nothing more than to just get back to work and move on with my life, but make no mistake: I will always continue to fight for the justice, equality and betterment of marginalized people everywhere."
This is a developing story. We'll update as more information becomes available.