- Chicago police released hundreds of pages of documents on Thursday in an ongoing controversy over why prosecutors dropped charges against the “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett.
- Smollett was originally charged with 16 counts of disorderly conduct related to allegedly filing a false police report over his claims.
- He said in late January that two men assaulted him and shouted racist and homophobic slurs.
- But scepticism eventually grew over his story, and investigators quickly concluded that Smollett staged the attack. Smollett has denied he staged the attack, and pleaded not guilty to the charges.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Chicago authorities released hundreds of pages of documents on Thursday related to the arrest and investigation into Jussie Smollett, the “Empire” actor whom police accused of staging an elaborate attack on himself and passing it off as a hate crime.
Smollett, 36, was arrested in February and charged with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about the attack. On March 26, prosecutors announced they would drop the charges against him, though they still believed Smollett was guilty.
Smollett alleged that two men assaulted him in late January, shouting racist and homophobic slurs and tying a rope around his neck. Smollett is black and gay, and he plays an LGBT character on the Fox series.
But cracks in his story quickly emerged, and investigators began looking into whether Smollett paid off two men to assault him in an extravagant hoax. After the charges were dropped, Smollett continued to deny that he staged the attack.
Here’s how the rapidly moving case unfolded.
January 22: An anonymous letter reportedly arrives at the “Empire” set, addressed to Smollett and using letters clipped from magazines to spell out “You will die black f-g.” The letter lists “MAGA” as the return address.
THE LETTER: “When the letter didn’t get enough attention, he concocted the staged attack” – CPD sources.
Jussie Smollett received a hate letter Jan. 22. It's that letter, the mail angle, that brought in the FBI. "That makes any potential case a Federal one, if they want it." pic.twitter.com/dTk2ECBvhU
— Brad Edwards (@tvbrad) February 19, 2019
January 29: Smollett’s manager calls the Chicago police at 2:42 a.m. to report an attack on Smollett that they say occurred roughly 40 minutes earlier.
When officers arrived at Smollett’s apartment, they found him with a “thin, light rope” still around his neck. Smollett told the officers the men attacked him as he was walking back to an apartment from a Subway restaurant.
He said they yelled racist slurs, hit him in the face, poured an unknown chemical substance on him, and tied the rope around his neck.
January 29: Later that morning in a follow-up interview, Smollett tells officers the men also yelled “This is MAGA country” after the attack. The Chicago police say that they are investigating the attack as a hate crime and that Smollett is “fully cooperating.”
Statement on #ChicagoPolice hate crime investigation. We are taking these allegations very seriously and encourage anyone with information to report anonymously to https://t.co/yYAqzcVIfu pic.twitter.com/DxipALHXaz
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 29, 2019
Source: The Chicago Sun-Times
January 30: The Chicago police release images showing two “people of interest” who had been near where Smollett said he was assaulted. They say no videos captured the full incident.
Photos of people of interest who were in area of the alleged assault & battery of Empire cast member. While video does not capture an encounter, detectives are taking this development seriously & wish to question individuals as more cameras are being reviewed pic.twitter.com/xJDDygtocr
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 31, 2019
January 30: Scepticism of Smollett’s account starts to take root almost immediately following his allegation, particularly on the right.
Conservative writers and commentators weighed in, noting that the incident took place on one of the coldest nights of the year amid a polar vortex and that no surveillance footage captured the assault.
If you believe that two MAGA hat wearing Trump supporters were just wandering Chicago at 2am on one of the coldest nights ever recorded looking for Jussie Smollett, while carrying bleach and a noose… you're part of the problem.
— Ryan Fournier (@RyanAFournier) January 31, 2019
Jussie Smollett’s manager allegedly claimed he overheard the attack?
This case keeps getting stranger. pic.twitter.com/y9wZqhIFmH
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) January 31, 2019
— Jeryl Bier (@JerylBier) January 31, 2019
January 31: Amid growing outcry over the allegation, President Donald Trump weighs in on the news from the Oval Office. He calls the attack “horrible” and says “it doesn’t get any worse, as far as I’m concerned.”
Source: White House pool report
February 1: Smollett makes his first public comments about the attack, giving Essence a statement saying he’s “OK” and that “my body is strong but my soul is stronger.” He thanks his supporters for “the outpouring of love.”
February 2: Smollett makes his first appearance at the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood and addresses the incident to a crowd of hundreds of fans.
— Karen Civil ???????? (@KarenCivil) February 3, 2019
“The most important thing I have to say is thank you so much and that I’m OK,” he said. “I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to be and I’m going to stand strong with y’all.”
Smollett also addressed the scepticism that had already begun to take hold on social media and said he wanted to clarify some of the misconceptions.
“I was bruised but my ribs were not cracked – they were not broken,” he said. “I went to the doctor immediately. I was not hospitalized. Both my doctors in LA and Chicago cleared me to perform but said to take care, obviously. And above all: I fought the f— back.”
February 11: After investigators request Smollett’s phone records, Smollett turns in “limited and heavily redacted” records that “do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation,” Chicago’s police department said.
Source: NBC Chicago
February 12: The Chicago police tell INSIDER they’re not considering charging Smollett with making a false report.
“Why would we charge a victim of a crime with a crime? That makes no sense,” Michael Carroll, an officer working in the Chicago Police Department communications office, told the INSIDER reporter Jacob Shamsian. “He is a victim of a crime that doesn’t belong in our city.”
He added: “False report charges, huh? We said multiple times, he is still considered a victim.”
Carroll said Smollett gave them his phone records in a PDF with redactions, which don’t meet the standards of evidence the police department requires. He said the department was seeking the phone records in the original format.
“It’s not that we’re saying he’s lying, or changed them,” Carroll said. “We need to be able to have our detective to go to a judge and say under oath they were verified.”
He added: “In the end, if we charge someone, they have to be found guilty without a reasonable doubt.”
February 13: The Chicago police say they arrested two men in connection with the attack. They are later identified though media reports as Ola and Abel Osundairo — two Americans with connections to Smollett and to “Empire.”
— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) February 18, 2019
Source: CBS Chicago
February 14: Smollett appears on “Good Morning America” in an emotional interview. He tears up as he discusses the growing scepticism around his allegations. “It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth,” he said. “You don’t even want to see the truth.”
"It's not necessarily that you don't believe that this is the truth, you don't even want to see the truth." @JussieSmollett tells @RobinRoberts he's "pissed off" about the attacks on him after details came out after his attack. https://t.co/3HbyU2SFxe pic.twitter.com/a2o949itIJ
— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 14, 2019
February 14: Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, is a high-profile example of the right-wing voices disputing Smollett’s story and attacking news organisations for their coverage of it.
First it was Buzzfeed, then it was Covington and now apparently Jussie Smollett. The media will run with ANYTHING, regardless of how obviously false, if it makes @realDonaldTrump and his supporters look bad. ANYTHING!!!
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 15, 2019
It appears that Jussie Smollett tried to manufacture a hate crime to make Trump supporters look bad and most of the media not only uncritically accepted his lies as facts for weeks, but attacked those who questioned the validity of his false story.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 17, 2019
Despite all the obvious holes media/Hollywood desperately wanted it to be true to push their hate of conservatives. Looks like it’s not aging so well.
From two weeks ago: Is Trump Jr. pushing a Jussie Smollett conspiracy theory? https://t.co/LFFdAoJBOA
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 17, 2019
Has anyone set the over-under on how long it will take Jussie Smollett and his Hollywood/Media enablers to find a way to blame “America” and “society” for his disreputable actions? We all know it’s only a matter of time.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 20, 2019
February 14: The Chicago police identify the two men arrested the previous day as “two Nigerian brothers” and clarify that they are not yet considered suspects. The department said the officers picked up the brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport the previous day after they returned from a trip to Nigeria.
Through s meticulous investigation, #ChicahoPolice detectives have identified the persons of interest in the area of the alleged attack of the Empire cast member. These individuals are not yet suspects but were in area of concern and are being questioned. Investigation continues. pic.twitter.com/tmy2jNvww5
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 14, 2019
A Chicago police spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, also said one of the brothers appeared on “Empire.”
The men’s lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, said in a statement the men were “baffled” that the police linked them to the attack and said they’re not guilty.
“They send their best to Jussie,” she added.
The police denied media reports suggesting the attack was a hoax, painting the reports as inaccurate.
Media reports anout the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives. Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate. pic.twitter.com/iSO5YFv452
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 15, 2019
February 15: The Chicago police release the men without charges and say detectives have “additional investigative work to complete.”
Case Update: Due to new evidence as a result of today's interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete. pic.twitter.com/Hswn1Qjgcy
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 16, 2019
February 16: Local and national news outlets, citing anonymous sources, report that detectives are now investigating whether Smollett paid the two brothers to stage the attack.
Here is the latest statement from the attorneys that Jussie Smollett has retained: pic.twitter.com/E6L8KytPgy
— Steph Wash (@WashNews) February 17, 2019
Guglielmi, the Chicago police spokesman, told INSIDER “there are some new developments in the investigation and we are now interested in speaking to the ‘Empire’ cast member again.”
Smollett’s lawyers released a statement denying reports that he staged the attack and affirming that Smollett was the victim of a hate crime.
That same day, sources told CBS Chicago that the two brothers who were detained by the Chicago police were seen on surveillance video at the Crafty Beaver hardware store on January 25, just days before Smollett said he was attacked.
The two men reportedly told investigators they bought some rope at the store at Smollett’s direction and they bought a red hat at the Uptown beauty supply store.
NEW: Sources say at least one of the brothers purchased the rope used in Jussie Smollett incident at Crafty Beaver hardware store the weekend of Jan 25th.
— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) February 17, 2019
February 19: Reports reveal that the FBI and the US Postal Inspection Service are investigating whether Smollett participated in sending the threatening letter he received on January 22.
Multiple sources confirm Jussie Smollett was upset that a prior incident in January, involving a threatening letter, did not grab enough attention, so he orchestrated the attack a week later, CBS News affiliate WBBM says https://t.co/U3vEZy3rIj pic.twitter.com/q0uqgnqB56
— CBS Evening News (@CBSEveningNews) February 19, 2019
The two brothers told investigators that Smollett had sent the letter to himself and that they helped him stage the attack after he grew upset that news of the threatening letter didn’t get enough attention, ABC News and CBS News reported, citing federal officials and other sources.
The police also shot down a tip that a witness spotted Smollett in an elevator with the two brothers, saying there was no video evidence to support that accusation.
February 19: Media outlets unearth 2007 court records showing that Smollett previously pleaded no contest to giving false information to police officers.
According to a misdemeanour complaint filed in the Los Angeles Superior Court and obtained by the Associated Press, Smollett identified himself as his young brother, Jake Smollett, when a police officer pulled him over on suspicion of driving under the influence in 2007.
Smollett pleaded no contest to giving false information, driving under the influence, and driving without a valid licence. He also completed an alcohol education and treatment program, the records show.
February 20: In a statement, Fox denies reports that Smollett is being written out of “Empire.”
“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,” 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement to INSIDER.
February 20: Prosecutors charge Smollett with disorderly conduct and filing a false police report.
Felony criminal charges have been approved by @CookCountySAO against Jussie Smollett for Disorderly Conduct / Filing a False Police Report. Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest. pic.twitter.com/LvBSYE2kVj
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 21, 2019
Earlier in the day, detectives and the Osundairo brothers testified before a grand jury, according to the Associated Press.
Smollett’s attorneys said in a statement they’re preparing to conduct a “thorough investigation” and “mount an aggressive defence.”
“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,” the lawyers Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson said in the statement.
February 21: Chicago police announce they have arrested Smollett, rebuking him in a stinging press conference for staging a “publicity stunt.”
Chicago Police Chief Eddie Johnson laced into Smollett for exploiting the country’s sensitivity to racism and hate crimes in order to further his career, and said Smollett should apologise to the city.
“Why would anyone – especially an African-American man – use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” Johnson told reporters. “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?”
Johnson said Smollett staged the “publicity stunt” because he was dissatisfied with his salary on “Empire.” Johnson said Smollett paid the two brothers with a $US3,500 check.
Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said at the press conference that a team of investigators had traced the two brothers through a variety of public and private surveillance cameras, tracking their movements as they fled the scene of the alleged attack, took a taxi to Chicago’s O’Hare airport, and immediately boarded a flight to Nigeria.
Working alongside federal investigators and the US Customs and Border Protection agency, Chicago detectives then determined the brothers had purchased roundtrip tickets. The investigators caught up with them when they returned to the city on February 13, Wodnicki said.
Chicago police detained the men for 48 hours – the maximum amount of time police can detain people without filing charges – and Johnson said it wasn’t until the 47th hour of the men’s detention that detectives truly started to doubt Smollett’s story.
“Quite rankly, it pissed everybody off,” Johnson said. “Those are resources and time spent that we can never get back, that we could have used for another investigation.”
February 21: The president weighs in on the arrest in a tweet, accusing him of insulting Trump supporters across the country by accusing his alleged attackers of yelling Trump’s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 21, 2019
February 21: 21st Century Fox tweets a statement saying the company is “considering our options.”
“We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options.” – STATEMENT FROM 20TH CENTURY FOX TELEVISION AND FOX ENTERTAINMENT
— 20th Century Fox TV (@20centuryfoxTV) February 21, 2019
February 21: Smollett is released on bond, and prosecutors reveal new details of the alleged hoax.
Smollett’s bond was set at $US100,000 and he had to surrender his passport.
According to court documents prosecutors released, Smollett had been upset with the lacklustre reaction from Empire Studios to the racist letter he had received. So three days later, according to the documents, Smollett reached out to the brothers, texting Abel, “Might need your help on the low. You around to meet up and talk face to face?”
Smollett then told Abel he wanted to stage an attack, and that Abel’s brother Ola should help.
He then detailed his plans to the brothers, saying they should attack him near his apartment building and yell out “Empire F– Empire N—,” and give him a chance to “appear to fight back,” the documents said. Smollett also allegedly instructed the brothers to put a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him, and yell, “This is MAGA country.”
February 22: “Empire” producers announce Smollett will be taken out of the last two episodes of the season.
Smollett’s character Jamal will not appear in the final two episodes of this season of “Empire,” the series executive producers Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo, and Dennis Hammer said in a statement.
“While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out,” the statement said. “We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
March 14: Smollett pleads not guilty to all charges.
Smollett could have faced up to three years in prison had he been convicted.
March 26: Prosecutors make a surprise announcement that they are dropping all charges against Smollett and the records from his case will be sealed.
"Do you believe that he is innocent?" CBS reporter @adrianasdiaz asks First Assistant Cook County State's Attorney Joseph Magats about dropping charges against Jussie Smollett. "I do not believe he is innocent," Magats responds. pic.twitter.com/NEWZuD2aBe
— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) March 26, 2019
Joe Magats, Cook County’s first assistant state’s attorney, told media that the dropped charges don’t mean Smollett is innocent, and that their decision not to prosecute does not “exonerate” him.
But Smollett completed 16 hours of community service in recent days and agreed to forfeit the $US10,000 bail he had paid after his arrest. Magats told CBS Chicago that his decision was largely based on his office’s resources and its priority to prosecute violent cases.
“Based on all facts and circumstances of the case, and also keeping in mind resources and keeping in mind that the office’s number one priority is to combat violent crime and the drivers of violence, I decided to offer this disposition in the case,” Magats said.
The news triggered outrage came as a shock not only to the public, but to Chicago police and the mayor, who said they found out about the dropped charges at the same time everyone else did.
Johnson said at a press conference he was disappointed in the prosecutors’ decision and accused Smollett and his attorneys of crafting a deal with prosecutors to “circumvent” the criminal-justice system.
“Do I think justice was served? No,” he said. “What do I think justice is? I think this city is still owed an apology.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was enraged, calling the decision a “whitewash of justice” and said Smollett needed to be held accountable for his alleged crimes.
“This is a person who has been let off scot-free with no sense of the accountability of the moral and ethical wrong of his actions,” Emanuel said.
March 26: Smollett spoke to media shortly after the announcement, reiterating his denial that he had staged the attack.
He told reporters he wanted to “get back to work” and move on with his life – but added that he was innocent of all the charges.
“I want you to know that not for a moment was it in vain. I have been truthful and consistent on every single level since day one,” he said. “I would not be my mother’s son if I was capable of one drop of what I was accused of.”
Smollett’s attorneys also said in a statement that Smollett is a “victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.”
March 26: Some of Smollett’s “Empire” colleagues appeared to gloat at the news, tweeting a picture of a CNN newscast announcing the dropped charges, and retweeting statements from Smollett and his family.
— Empire Writers (@EmpireWriters) March 26, 2019
March 27: Speculation quickly turned to whether Smollett could face federal charges.
The FBI is still investigating whether Smollett played a role in sending the threatening letter he received January 22, leading news outlets to speculate over whether Smollett could face mail fraud charges.
May 23: A Chicago judge ordered that Smollett’s court records be unsealed, after media organisations argued in court that Smollett’s case was a national news story and there was massive public interest in the records.
In Illinois, records are immediately sealed in cases where charges are dismissed, according to The Chicago Sun-Times.
Smollett’s lawyers had argued that he was entitled to the same privacy as other defendants, but the judge ruled that Smollett had contradicted that by making media appearances both before he was charged and after the charges were dropped.
May 30: Chicago police released hundreds of pages of documents related to their investigation, raising further speculation on exactly when and why prosecutors changed their mind about charging Smollett.
The documents did not offer insight into prosecutors’ decisions, as they came from the police department rather than the prosecutors’ office. But they did reveal that prosecutors decided within two weeks of Smollett’s February 28 indictment that they intended to drop the charges.
“[State’s Attorney Kim Foxx] felt the case would be settled with Smollett paying the city of Chicago $US10,000 in restitution and doing community service,” one detective wrote in an email,according to The New York Times.
Chicago’s police superintendent, Eddie Johnson, had previously said he didn’t know the charges would be dropped until the day they were announced.
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.