By Christianna Silva
On Thursday, February 21, Empire actor Jussie Smollett was taken into custody on charges of disorderly conduct and filing a false police report after allegedly staging the assault he reported to Chicago police in January, according to Tom Ahern, the deputy director of news affairs and communications for the Chicago police.
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.”