The many twists and turns in the Jussie Smollett investigation

Here’s how the case has unfolded:

What happened

Chicago police confirmed they were investigating a possible hate crime against Smollett.

They said that in the early morning of January 29 he was attacked by two people who were « yelling out racial and homophobic slurs » and « poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim » in the Streeterville neighborhood where he had been staying while filming his hit TV show « Empire. »

Smollett took himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he and a friend spoke with CNN’s Don Lemon and confirmed the incident had happened.
Smollett identifies as gay and since 2015 has portrayed the gay character of Jamal, a successful singer in the musical Lyon family on his show.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment offered their support after the reported attack.
« We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our ‘Empire’ family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night, » a representative of 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement to CNN. « We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate — and especially against one of our own. »

Hollywood and fans rallied

Almost immediately, colleagues and fans of Smollett expressed shock, sadness and love for him.
« Empire » creator Lee Daniels posted his support on his official Instagram account.
« We have to love each other regardless of what sexual orientation we are because it shows that we are united on a united front, » Daniels said in a video. « And no racist f*** can come in and do the things that they did to you. Hold your head up, Jussie. I’m with you. »

More details start to emerge

Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told CNN that authorities had video of Smollett entering the Loews Chicago after the alleged attack with what appeared to be a noose around his neck.
According to Guglielmi, Smollett told detectives that during his walk back from Subway sandwiches he was attacked by two men near the lower entrance of the Loews.
The actor told police the two men yelled « ‘Empire’ fa***t » and « ‘Empire’ n***er » while striking him, before putting a noose around his neck and pouring an unknown substance on him.
Police were called 30 to 40 minutes after the attack, Guglielmi said.
Investigators said they had the rope and Smollett’s sweater in their custody and were testing for the unknown substance on them.
We also learned that Smollett and his manager Brandon Moore said they were speaking on the phone at the time of the attack.

‘Persons of interest’

Soon after Smollett filed his report, Chicago police found two « persons of interest » on video that they believed were the likely offenders. Police started searching the area of the alleged attack for cameras and witnesses. Chicago Police Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said police interviewed more than 100 people. Wodnicki said they also found approximately 35 police cameras and over 20 private sector cameras in the area.
Video from those cameras led to a solid timeline of events, Wodnicki said.
The video showed each of the two men getting into a cab and then a rideshare. Eventually, Chicago police determined that they had gone to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and had taken a flight to Nigeria, purchasing a roundtrip ticket with a return date of February 13.
As police waited for the brothers to return, they continued their investigation, obtaining more than 50 search warrants and subpoenas for phone and social media records.
The men were taken into custody when they returned to the United States on February 13 as they came through airport customs. Once in custody, the two brothers both asked for an attorney. After speaking with the men, their attorney told police « something smelled fishy » and that she didn’t think the brothers were the offenders as had been reported.

Smollett’s family responds

Smollett is the member of a large family that includes several siblings who are also in the entertainment industry.
The family released a statement standing with the « Empire » actor and thanking everyone for their support after what they called an act of « domestic terrorism. »
« Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning, » the statement said, « His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice. »

The letter

Chicago police spokesman Guglielmi told CNN that a letter containing a white powder was received on January 22 at Cinespace Studios in Chicago, where « Empire » is filmed. »
The prompted a response from the hazardous materials unit, he said.
Guglielmi said authorities determined the powder to be aspirin, but he declined to give details on the content of the letter and said the FBI was leading the investigation into it.
A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Entertainment, which produces the series, declined to comment when reached by CNN.

Possible witness?

A neighbor who lives in Smollett’s apartment building told police she saw a « suspicious man » who had what appeared to be a rope outside the building, Guglielmi told CNN.
The unidentified neighbor also told police she saw another man in the vicinity of the building.
Detectives met with the woman and took her statement, Guglielmi said.

Smollett breaks his silence

The actor thanked his supporters after the attack and said he was OK.
In a written statement first published by Essence magazine, Smollett said « My body is strong but my soul is stronger. »
« I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level, » Smollett wrote. « Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served. »

‘I can’t let attackers win’

Smollett performed his first concert since the reported attack at West Hollywood’s Troubadour club on February 3 and tearfully talked to the audience about what happened.
« I had to be here tonight, y’all, I couldn’t let those (expletives) … win, » he said. « Above all, I fought … (expletive) back. »
He also clarified his injuries, saying he was bruised but his ribs were neither cracked nor broken.

Hesitant to report the incident

According to a redacted Chicago police report obtained by CNN through a FOIA request, Smollett was initially hesitant to report the attack.
The report included details such as Smollett’s descriptions of the alleged attackers’ clothing and mentioned details previously released by authorities, including what the alleged attackers said to Smollett.

Smollett’s first TV interview

« Good Morning America » aired its interview with Smollett talking to Robin Roberts.
He said he was « forever changed » by the incident and was « pissed off » by both the attack and the doubt that was cast over his story.
Smollett told Roberts one of the attackers said, « ‘This MAGA country, n****r’ and he punched me in the face so I punched his a** back. »
« It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more, » Smollett said. « And that says a lot about the place where we are as a country right now. »
He also said he respected victims of hate crimes too much to lie about what happened.
The star theorized that he had been targeted because of his vocal criticism against Donald Trump and his administration, telling Roberts, « I come really hard against 45. »

‘Empire’ connection

One of the two men investigators questioned as persons of interest appeared on Smollett’s series, according to police.
Guglielmi had said earlier on Twitter that « the people of interest are alleged to be in the area where a crime was reported. They are not considered suspects at this time. »
The two men are Nigerian brothers — identified as Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — and were questioned by police after flying into Chicago-O’Hare International Airport from Nigeria, Guglielmi said.
Police said they searched the men’s apartment earlier.

Two men arrested

On February 13, police took the two persons of interest into custody.
Early in the day on February 15, Chicago police said the two brothers were being treated as « potential suspects » and that detectives had « probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime. »
Police did not say what the men were accused of or what the alleged crime might have been.
Later that same day, the men were released without charge « due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, » Guglielmi said. « And detectives have additional investigative work to complete. »
Upon release, the men were classified as witnesses instead of persons of interest.

Smollett denies he orchestrated the attack

Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, issued a statement to CNN. They stated that Smollett was angry about the latest developments, which included two police sources telling CNN that Chicago police believe the actor paid the brothers to orchestrate the assault on him.
« 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, » the statement read. « 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. »
Smollett’s attorneys said they expect further updates from Chicago police on the investigation and will continue cooperating with authorities.

Brothers push back on their portrayal

In a joint statement issued Monday to WBBM – TV, the men said: « We are not racist. We are not homophobic, and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens. »

Supporters decide to wait and see

As new information emerged, some of Smollett’s initial supporters adopted a wait-and-see stance.
« The information is still coming out, » Sen. Cory Booker said. « I’m going to withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources. »
Booker, who is running for president, was one of several Democrats to weigh in on initial reports of the attack.
Director Ava DuVernay also weighed in.
« Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD. The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? That operated an off-site torture facility? » DuVernay wrote in a tweet. « That one? I’ll wait. Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t. »

Grand Jury scheduled

The Osundairo brothers went before a grand jury, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
At one point, Smollett’s attorneys asked that the grand jury proceeding be postponed so he could provide new details, but « essentially they gave us no new information, » Cmdr. Edward Wodnicki said.
The proceeding went on as scheduled. The grand jury heard the evidence, police said, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office approved a felony disorderly conduct charge against the actor.

Prosecutor opts out

The county’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation, according to a spokeswoman from 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, » the spokeswoman, Tandra Simonton, said.

Named a suspect

Smollett was « officially classified » as a suspect in a criminal investigation for allegedly filling a false police report, according to Chicago police.
A Cook County grand jury was hearing evidence in the case, the police spokesman said.

Arrest and bail hearing

On February 21, Smollett was arrested on suspicion of filing a false police report. Under Illinois law, filing a false police report is a Class 4 felony, punishable by one to three years in prison. A judge set his bond at $100,000 and ordered that the actor surrender his passport.
Chicago police superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett staged the alleged attack because he was « dissatisfied with his salary. »
Smollett first « attempted to gain attention by sending a false letter that relied on racial, homophobic and political language, » an apparent reference to a letter sent to the « Empire » set in the days before the attack.
« When that didn’t work, Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process, » Johnson said. « And why? The stunt was orchestrated by Smollett because he was dissatisfied with his salary. So he concocted a story about being attacked. »
Johnson said Smollett » took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. »

Smollett’s work on ‘Empire’

20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment expressed their continued support for Smollett.
« 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 statement read.
But hours after the arrest of Smollett, the network said they were considering their options.
« We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process, » 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement to CNN. « We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options. »
Producers later cut Smollett’s character from the final two episodes of « Empire’s » current season.
The decision, producers said, was made to « avoid further disruption on set. »
« The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us, » the statement said. « 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. »

Indictment

Smollett was indicted on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct on March 8 by a Cook County grand jury.
Mark Geragos, one of Smollett’s attorneys and a CNN legal analyst at the time, said the actor maintained his innocence.
The attorney called the indictment « prosecutorial overkill. »
« This redundant and vindictive indictment is nothing more than a desperate attempt to make headlines, » Geragos said.

‘Not guilty’

On March 14, Smollett pleaded not guilty in to accusations that he staged a hate crime and filed a false police report.
The actor was arraigned before Judge Steven Gregory Watkins, and his attorney entered the formal not guilty plea on his behalf. Watkins agreed to allow Smollett to travel to California and New York to meet with his lawyers and set his next hearing for April 17.

Charges dropped

In a dramatic reversal, prosecutors drop all the charges against Smollett.
The move marks a major shift in a case in which Chicago police alleged last month that the actor hired two acquaintances to attack him in late January to promote his career.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office didn’t immediately explain why the felony disorderly charges were dropped, except to say it came after reviewing the case’s facts, and in view of his agreement to forfeit his $10,000 bond.
« I have been truthful and consistent on every level since day one, » Smollet told reporters in a Chicago courthouse on Tuesday. « I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I’ve been accused of. »

Smollett called himself a « man of faith » and said he wanted to move on with his life.
« I want to thank my family, my friends, the incredible people of Chicago and all over the country and the world who have prayed for me, who have supported me. »

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