Jussie Smollett Timeline: A Case With Twists and Turns

Nearly three years have passed since the actor Jussie Smollett reported that he had been the victim of a racist and homophobic attack in Chicago. The police initially investigated the incident as a possible hate crime, then accused Mr. Smollett of staging the attack himself. Charges were filed against Mr. Smollett, then dropped. A special prosecutor was appointed and charges were filed again, leading to his trial on charges of disorderly conduct for making a false report to the police.

Here’s a timeline of how we got here.

Jan. 29, 2019: Mr. Smollett, who is Black and gay, tells the police that at about 2 a.m., two masked men, one of whom he believed to be white, attacked him on the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in downtown Chicago. The assailants, according to Mr. Smollett, hurled homophobic and racial slurs at him, put a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him.

Mr. Smollett says he went home and a close associate of his reported the incident to the police 40 minutes after it happened. Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, later told The Chicago Sun-Times that Mr. Smollett had been hesitant to call the police because of his status as a public figure.

Law enforcement officials say they are treating the incident “as a possible hate crime.” At a follow-up visit by investigators, Mr. Smollett says the attackers mentioned “MAGA country,” a reference to the campaign slogan of former President Donald J. Trump.

Celebrities, politicians and advocacy groups offer their support to Mr. Smollett. Fox, the network on which “Empire” airs, issues a statement saying the “entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate.”

Detectives comb through surveillance camera recordings but say they can’t find images of the attack.

Jan. 30: Investigators announce the first possible break in the case: A surveillance image shows “potential persons of interest wanted for questioning” in connection to the case. The images are of two men with their backs to the camera.

At this point, the F.B.I. is already investigating a threatening letter sent to Mr. Smollett at the “Empire” production offices in Chicago the week before.

Jan. 31: Mr. Trump is asked about the incident in the Oval Office. He refers to it as “horrible” and added that it “doesn’t get worse.”

The Smollett family releases a statement: “Jussie was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack. We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime. Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice.”

Feb. 1: Mr. Smollett releases his first public statement through his publicist. It says: “Let me start by saying that I’m OK. 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.”

Acknowledging some skepticism about his story on social media, Mr. Smollett adds, “I am working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level. Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”

The Chicago police superintendent, Eddie T. Johnson, says in an interview with a local television station: “We have to remember, he’s a victim. You know, so we have to treat it like he’s a victim. We have no reason to think that he’s not being genuine with us.”

Feb. 2: Mr. Smollett appears in public for the first time since he reported the attack, performing a concert 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 OK,” Mr. Smollett tells the crowd.

Feb. 4: The Chicago police say the people of interest have not been identified yet but they are continuing to follow up on leads.

Feb. 11: The department reacts to phone records that Mr. Smollett turned over to investigators. The police had asked Mr. Smollett for access to his phone because he had been in conversation with his manager when the incident occurred. Mr. Smollett provides the police with redacted records that they say “do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation.”

Feb. 13: Two brothers of Nigerian descent, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, are detained by the authorities after a flight back home to Chicago from Nigeria. Police officers raid their home and, according to CBS Chicago, remove items including an “Empire” script and two hats.

Feb. 14: Mr. Smollett gives his first interview about the incident to “Good Morning America,” where he is adamant that he is telling the truth.

“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 much more,” Mr. Smollett tells ABC’s Robin Roberts. “A lot more.”

He also says he is convinced that the men in the surveillance images were his attackers.

“Because I was there,” Mr. Smollett says. “For me, when that was released, I was like, ‘OK, we’re getting somewhere.’ I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”

The Chicago police reveal publicly that at least one of the men detained has appeared as an extra on “Empire.” The department also says they “are not yet suspects.” Their lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, tells CBS Chicago: “They’re really baffled why they are people of interest. They really don’t understand how they even got information that linked them to this horrific crime. But they’re not guilty of it. They know that the evidence is going to prove them innocent. They send their best to Jussie.”

The local news media releases its first reports that investigators are beginning to look at the possibility that this is a hoax, something the Chicago police dispute publicly.

Feb. 15: In a whirlwind day, the detained brothers are identified as potential suspects by police, but that night are released without being charged. Investigators announce they are no longer considered suspects but do not say why.

Feb. 16: The police say they are seeking to speak with Mr. Smollett again. Media outlets, including CNN, report that the two men have told investigators they were paid to take part in a hoax. Mr. Guglielmi says in a statement, “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.”

Lawyers for Mr. Smollett release a statement saying, “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.”

It added: “One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”

The lawyers say that Mr. Smollett will “continue to cooperate” and that they “have no inclination to respond to ‘unnamed’ sources inside of the investigation.”

Feb. 20: Fox releases a statement in support of Mr. Smollett amid reports that his role was being reduced on “Empire.” Later in the day, the Chicago police announce that they consider Mr. Smollett a suspect in the filing of a false report.

Mr. Smollett is charged by the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office with a felony disorderly conduct charge in connection with the police report he filed. His lawyers issue a statement, saying: “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.”

Fox later declines to comment on the criminal charge.

Feb. 21: Mr. Smollett is arrested in the morning by the Chicago police, who say the actor staged his own assault because he was upset over his salary on “Empire.” Mr. Smollett posts bail and is released.

Mr. Smollett’s legal team releases a statement saying the court system had trampled “the presumption of innocence” in a “law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system.”

Support for the actor flags as some celebrities who had initially supported him take down their social media posts. President Trump tweets, “.@JussieSmollett – what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA.”

Feb. 22: The producers of “Empire” announce that Mr. Smollett’s character will not appear in the final two episodes of the show’s fifth season.

March 8: A grand jury indicts Mr. Smollett on 16 counts of disorderly conduct in connection with the Jan. 29 attack report.

March 26: Prosecutors in Chicago drop all charges against Mr. Smollett.

“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’s Attorney’s Office says in a statement.

April 11: The City of Chicago sues Mr. Smollett, seeking more than $130,000 to cover the cost of a police investigation into his claim that he had been the victim of a hate crime attack. A spokeswoman for Mr. Smollett’s lawyers declined to comment on the city’s lawsuit, but the actor has insisted that he told the truth when he reported being attacked.

May 23: A judge in Chicago unseals Mr. Smollett’s case file after a group of media organizations, including The New York Times, asked the court to make the records publicly accessible, citing a need for more transparency.

May 30: Documents released on May 30 suggested that soon after Mr. Smollett was charged, the prosecutors were thinking about settling the case.

June 21: Judge Michael P. Toomin of the Circuit Court of Cook County orders that a special prosecutor be appointed to independently investigate charges that Mr. Smollett staged the attack, as well as the prosecutors’ decision to drop the felony counts against him. The judge was addressing the decision by Kim Foxx, the Cook County state’s attorney, to separate herself from the investigation and appoint her deputy as “acting state’s attorney” to oversee the case.

Aug. 23: Daniel K. Webb is appointed special prosecutor.

As the U.S. attorney in Chicago, he was chief prosecutor in Operation Greylord, the undercover investigation of corrupt judges, police officers, lawyers and other public officials in that city. Mr. Webb also prosecuted Adm. John M. Poindexter, a former national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, in the Iran-contra affair. In his current role as an executive chairman of the international law firm Winston & Strawn, he is known for defending prominent white-collar clients, including George H. Ryan, the former Illinois governor.

Feb. 11, 2020: Mr. Webb announces that a grand jury has indicted Mr. Smollett on six counts of disorderly conduct, accusing him of lying to the police about the attack. The special prosecutor said Ms. Foxx’s office had not produced any evidence showing that it believed the case against Mr. Smollett had been weak.

Feb. 24: Mr. Smollett pleads not guilty and is released without bail.

Aug. 17: Mr. Webb announces his findings in the inquiry surrounding the Cook County state’s attorney’s office. He says the office did not violate the law in its handling of the case but did abuse its discretion in deciding to drop charges and put out false or misleading public statements about why it did so.

Nov. 29, 2021: Mr. Smollett’s trial begins at the Leighton Criminal Courthouse in Chicago.

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