It’s been less than a month since Jussie Smollett appeared to be the victim of a racial and homophobic attack. But in the weeks since, there have been too many twists and turns to keep track of. So, with the 36-year-old Empire star officially accused of orchestrating the attack against himself and charged with a filing a police report, EW has put together the official timeline of the investigation and fallout.
A threatening letter addressed to Smollett and containing a white powder (it turned out to be aspirin) is sent to the Empire production offices in Chicago with a return address of “MAGA.”
Smollett tells police that he was attacked at approximately 2 a.m. in downtown Chicago. The actor, who is gay and plays a gay character on Empire, says he was walking back home from Subway when two unknown masked offenders approached him, yelling out racial and homophobic slurs (in a follow-up interview, Smollett says they also mentioned President Donald Trump’s slogan “MAGA”). They then attacked him, poured an unknown chemical substance on him, and wrapped a rope around his neck.
While Chicago PD says they are treating the incident as a hate crime and are currently gathering video and identifying possible witnesses, Hollywood begins sharing an outpour of love for Smollett. In addition to Fox and the Empire creative team, Halle Berry, Terry Crews, Ariana Grande, and more share their support via statements and social media posts.
The police release surveillance images of two “people of interest” who were in the area around the time of the attack. The faces of the men are not visible in the photos.
President Trump weighs in during a press conference in the Oval Office. “That I can tell you is horrible,” he said. “I’ve seen it. Last night. It’s horrible. Doesn’t get worse.”
Smollett’s family, which includes sister and Friday Night Lights star Jurnee Smollett-Bell, release a statement on the “cowardly attack”: “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. Make no mistake, words matter. Hateful words lead to hateful actions. Radical love is the only solution, but passivity will be our downfall. We, as a family, will continue to work for love, equity and justice until it reigns supreme in our nation and all over the world.”
Via a statement, Smollett speaks out for the first time. “Let me start by saying that I’m OK,” he said. “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.”
Regarding any skepticism about his story, he declared, “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.”
Smollett makes his first public appearance since the attack when he performs an intimate concert at the Troubador in West Hollywood. “I had to be here tonight y’all,” he told the audience. “I couldn’t let those mother f—ers win.”
Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo are detained by police and their house raided. We later learn that one of the brothers has appeared as an extra on Empire.
Smollett sits down with Good Morning America‘s Robin Roberts for his first post-attack interview. He shares his detailed account of what happened and expresses outrage that some question his story. “It became a thing of like, ‘Oh, It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth,’” he said. “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.”
He also revealed why he won’t hand over his phone to investigators, noting sensitive information like the “private pictures” and numbers for his cast mates, family, and partner. “They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three, four hours. I’m sorry, but I’m not gonna do that,” he said. “I don’t know what that’s gonna be to hand over my phone. And, honestly, by then inaccurate, false statements had already been put out there.”
Multiple local news outlets in Chicago report that police now believe Smollett worked with the other two individuals to stage the crime because Smollett was being killed off of Empire. Chicago PD spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi calls those reports “unconfirmed” as well as “uninformed and inaccurate.” Meanwhile, Fox and the Empire team says it’s “patently ridiculous” to suggest that the actor would be written off the series.
The Osundairo brothers are officially identified as potential suspects by police, although not yet charged. Then, later that night, they are released as “detectives have additional investigative work to complete.”
Chicago police say that new evidence has “shifted the trajectory of the investigation.” Reports suggest that Smollett is now suspected of paying the men behind the attack.The actor’s legal team subsequently releases a statement blasting such an idea.
“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,” said Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson. “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.
EW confirms that Empire scenes featuring Smollett are being rewritten and reduced.
In response to reports about Smollett’s future on Empire, Fox backs the actor again, saying, “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.”
Hours later, Chicago police announced that Smollett is officially a suspect and that a grand jury is currently underway. Late Wednesday, he’s charged with a felony for filing a false police report.
“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,” Smollett’s lawyers say in their latest statement. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
Smollett turns himself in early Thursday morning. With the actor in custody, Chicago police hold a press conference to lay out their case. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson called Smollett’s actions “shameful” and that he “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote this career.” He further shared that the Empire star was behind the threatening letter that he had previously received and when that didn’t get the reaction he wanted, Smollett used a check, which is now in police possession, to pay $3,500 to the Osundairo brothers, who he knew through the hit Fox series. Johnson says Smollett’s motive was dissatisfaction with his Empire salary, but a production source tells EW that Smollett “never” complained about what he made.
After being released on $100,000 bail, Smollett returns to the Empire set, where EW reports he apologized to the cast and crew, while also still vehemently proclaiming his innocence.
Additionally, President Trump responded to this latest turn of events on Twitter, where he wrote, “[W]hat about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
Empire producers release a statement saying they will let the legal process play out, but they’re removing Smollett from the final two episodes of the current fifth season.
Gloria Schmidt, an attorney for Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, releases a statement on behalf of the brothers: “My clients have tremendous regret over their involvement in this situation, and they understand how it has impacted people across the nation, particularly minority communities and especially those who have been victims of hate crimes themselves.”
Smollett returns to court and enters a plea of not guilty. He will next be required to appear on April 17.