Watch CBS News

Jussie Smollett: Timeline of events since "Empire" actor reported Chicago attack

Smollett billed by Chicago police
Chicago mayor demands Jussie Smollett pay for alleged hate crime investigation 02:13

The alleged attack on "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett has sprawled into a saga longer and stranger than anyone could have guessed. Smollett, who is black and openly gay, maintains that he was the victim of a brutal hate crime in late January. But after weeks of twists and turns, he became a suspect, and was charged with felony counts for allegedly lying about the incident. Less than a month later, all of his charges with dropped, leaving even more confusion about the case.

How did all of this happen?

Here's what went down:

Jan. 22: One week before the reported attack, a letter threatening Smollett arrives at the Fox studio where "Empire" is filmed. The letter, later published by TMZ, contained a homophobic death threat against Smollett spelled out in cut-up letters. The envelope reads "MAGA," an apparent reference to President Trump's "Make America Great Again" slogan.

Jan. 29: Chicago police open a hate crime investigation after Smollett, 36, says he was attacked near his Chicago apartment. According to police, Smollett says two men approached him around 2 a.m., shouted "racial and homophobic slurs," poured an "unknown chemical substance" on him and wrapped a noose around his neck.

Police confirm to CBS News that in second interview with police, Smollett told detectives his attackers yelled "This is MAGA country."

Jan. 30: Chicago police release a photo of two "persons of interest" captured on surveillance footage, while noting that the attack itself was not captured.

Feb. 1: Apparently noting the skepticism that some have raised about the attack, Smollett releases a statement saying he has been "100% 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," he writes.

Feb. 2: Smollett makes his first public appearance since reporting the incident, with a sold-out concert at the Troubadour in West Hollywood, California. He tears up before the set and tells the crowd, "Regardless of what anyone else says, I will only stand for love." A meet-and-greet that was scheduled for the show is canceled, with security concerns cited.

Feb. 4: Chicago police release the initial incident report. It says a friend of Smollett, who reported the incident to police, says Smollett "did not want to report offense" but "believed it to be in the best interest to." The report also notes that Smollett still had a rope around his neck when police arrived to interview him. In the report, Smollett says the attackers were wearing black and the "primary aggressor." He says they were wearing a black mask, but he recalls no other "distinguishing features."

Feb. 12: Chicago police say the phone records Smollett gave them were "heavily redacted" and "do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation." 

Jussie Smollett
Jussie Smollett seen May 28, 2015, in Los Angeles. Getty

Feb. 14: Smollett appears on ABC's "Good Morning America" for his first television interview since the incident. He tears up in the interview and pushes back on those who have questioned his story. He says "pride" made him reluctant to initially report the incident, and that he was hesitant to give his phone to police because of private information on it. 

In a statement, Smollett's lawyer say the redactions were "intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack."

Chicago police say media reports about the attack being a hoax "are unconfirmed by case detectives. Smollett denies the reports through a spokesperson. Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson says there is no evidence to support that this was a hoax.

Feb. 15: Chicago police announce they are questioning two "persons of interest" who were seen on surveillance video. But later that day, the two men are released without charges. Police say "new evidence" has given detectives "additional investigative work to complete."

Feb. 16: A source close to the investigation tells CBS News that two Nigerian brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, told detectives Smollett paid them to participate in the attack. They say the rope that was found around Smollett's neck was purchased at a nearby hardware store. A raid of their home turned up ropes, masks and bleach.

Chicago police say their questioning of the brothers had "shifted the trajectory of the investigation," and they requested another interview with Smollett. The actor's attorneys say he is "angered and devastated" by reports that he knew the alleged attackers, and that one of the men was Smollett's personal trainer. Ola Osundairo had played a prisoner in a season of "Empire."

Feb. 17: Chicago police release a vague statement on Twitter: "While we are not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what's been unofficially released, there are some developments in this investigation and detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident."

Feb. 18: Ola and Abel Osundairo, the two brothers previously questioned by police, speak out publicly for the first time. In a statement to CBS Chicago, the brothers say: "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."

Feb. 19: The two brothers were talking to prosecutors, sources told CBS News. The brothers spent the afternoon at the Cook County courthouse. It is not clear if they testified, but they are expected to, according to sources. That could lead to an indictment of Smollett.

Feb. 20: The Cook County, Illinois, state attorney files a felony disorderly conduct charge against Smollett for allegedly filing a false report. This is announced soon after Chicago police confirm Smollett is a suspect in a criminal investigation.

Surveillance footage obtained by CBS Chicago shows the Osundairo brothers buying a red hat and ski masks one day before the reported assault.

Feb. 21: Chicago police say Smollett turned himself in to face charge. A judge sets bond at $100,000 and ordered Smollett to surrender his passport. Chicago Police Department Superintendent Eddie Johnson blasts Smollett at a press conference, saying he is "offended" and "angry" by the apparent hoax.

"I'm left hanging my head and asking why," Johnson says. "Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile?"

March 8: A Chicago grand jury charges Smollett with 16 felony counts for every alleged lie he told police.

March 14: Smollett pleads not guilty.

March 26: The Cook County State's Attorney Office announces that all charges against Smollett are dropped and his record will be wiped. The office says Smollett forfeited his $10,000 bond payment and did two days of community service. In a brief statement to the press, Smollett says he has "been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one."

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson express fury over the decision and say they stand by the accusations against Smollett. Emanuel calls the move a "whitewash of justice" and implies Smollett's fame helped him get off.

March 27: State prosecutor Joe Magats, who made the decision to drop the charges, tells CBS News he still believes Smollett is guilty. He says his office needs to focus on violent crimes, and that he feels Smollett had done enough to "wipe this clean."

Chicago police release a batch of documents from the investigation. The files cast doubt on Smollett's claim that he gave the Osundairo brothers a $3,500 check for fitness training, rather than as payment for the faked assault.

Prosecutor says he believes Jussie Smollett is guilty, despite dropping all charges 06:55

March 28: A lawyer for the city of Chicago says the city is seeking $130,000 from actor Jussie Smollett as restitution for the cost of the investigation he initiated. Hours earlier, President Trump tweeted the FBI and the Department of Justice would review the "outrageous" case, calling it an "embarrassment" to the country. Also, Smollett has been nominated for an NAACP Image Award, which will be handed out Saturday in Hollywood. It is unclear if he will be in attendance.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.