Fall of an Empire: The Jussie Smollett Controversy Timeline

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Feb. 11 2020, Updated 3:38 p.m. ET

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The Jussie Smollett controversy was beyond complicated. For months, it captured the attention of the nation (and the world) and found the Empire star fighting for his professional and personal life. He alleged that on January 29, 2019 two men attacked him at two in the morning as he left a national sandwich chain in his hometown of Chicago. The assailants reportedly splashed him with a mysterious liquid and physically assaulted him — all while shouting racist and homophobic slurs. Problems arose when he was interviewed by the Chicago cops, and his story started changing. Authorities felt something was off. 

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In early 2015, Smollett was a fully employed actor in Hollywood. He had been working steadily since he made his television debut in 1991’s A Little Piece of Heaven (starring Kirk Cameron) and his cinematic debut the following year in the smash hit The Mighty Ducks (led by star Emilio Estevez). Professionally, everything changed when the actor scored a plum role on Empire, which premiered in January of 2015.  

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The stellar Empire actor (which also starred Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard) saw his star steadily rise from character actor to primetime TV star, but then it flickered out with the Jussie Smollett controversy.When detectives dug deeper, they claimed that the entire attack was made up by the actor. Why did he do it and exactly how did this entire headline-grabbing scandal start and progress? All the details are revealed here in an in-depth timeline of the purported attack and subsequent maze of details that has resulted in the actor with no projects in the foreseeable future, per IMDB.

January 22, 2019

A still photo from Empire found Jussie Smollett, who wore a white tuxedo, in the middle between a head-to-toe dark suited Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson in a light green dress.
Source: Fox

Smollett received a threatening letter on the Fox lot in Los Angeles where his hit show, Empire, is filmed. It contained a mysterious white powder (that was later determined to be Tylenol). The actor notified the Los Angeles Police Department.

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January 29, 2019

Jussie Smollett wore a brown oxford shirt tucked into a deeper shade of brown slacks — accessorized with a matching scarf.
Source: Shutterstock

As Radar Online chronicled, the alleged attack occurred. Smollett was walking near his Chicago apartment and reported that around 2 a.m. he had an “unknown substance” poured on him and one of the two assailants put a rope noose around his neck. The actor told police that he was told that this was “MAGA country,” in a reference to President Donald Trump’s election slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

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January 30, 2019

The Chicago police chief greeted the press in his formal uniform.
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The Windy City’s police announced that they were seeking two individuals of interest, Radar Online exclusively reported.

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January 31, 2019

Jussie Smollett was mobbed by press as he walked to a courthouse in Chicago.
Source: Shutterstock

Smollett’s family was reeling from the assault and addressed the happenings of the past week. "In the early hours of Tuesday morning, our beloved son and brother, 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," the statement to Us Weekly read.

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February 1, 2019

Actor Jussie Smollett appeared with his Empire co-star, Gabourey Sidibe — who wore a purple dress while he sported a grey suit.
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Smollett released a statement where he thanked his fans for coming together to support him in his time of need. He also took the time to reiterate that all his reporting to the authorities had been true and without falsehoods. "I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level," the statement read, as chronicled by CNN. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”

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February 2, 2019

The outside of the Troubadour club in West Hollywood found a sign that stated “Jussie Smollett” would be performing that evening.
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The performer made his first public appearance after the alleged attack when he took the stage at the famed Troubadour (where Elton John famously made his American debut) in West Hollywood. He kept to his set list but did address the issue. “Regardless of what anyone else says, I will only stand for love," Smollett stated, then teared up before he added, "We hope that you all stand with us."

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February 4, 2019

A bodycam image of a Chicago police officer showed Jussie Smollett, in a cardigan sweater, with the noose still tied around his neck from his alleged attack.
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The police released the first report. When they arrived at the actor’s home to interview him, he was still wearing the noose around his neck. Police stated that Smollett left a fast food chain at around 2 a.m. and was approached by two attackers who were wearing all black and ski masks and shouting racist and homophobic slurs. It was also reported that the Empire star did not know where the assailants came from or in which direction they ran after. The 911 call transcript that described the attack was also released to the public, per Radar Online. “I work for an artist, I don’t want to say his name,” the anonymous caller said to the 911 operator. “He was walking by and some guys, I don’t know, they jumped him or something like that.”

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February 13, 2019

Jussie Smollett wore an off-purple shirt on the set of Empire.
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Nothing happened in the case for nine days, but then there was a huge breakthrough. Us Weekly reported that the police had arrested two individuals at the airport after they returned from Nigeria. They were the two “persons of interest” and were handcuffed upon arrival and taken to police headquarters in Chicago for interviews.

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February 14, 2019

Jussie Smollett wore a black suit over a white T-shirt as he was interviewed by Robin Roberts, who sported black slacks and a maroon, animal spotted blazer.
Source: ABC

Smollett had an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts and Good Morning America. In the Q&A, he repeated what he told police about what happened. He defended himself from Roberts’ line of questioning when she wondered why he only mentioned that the assailants had yelled “MAGA country” in his follow-up interview with the authorities, as quoted in Radar Online. There was a growing sense that something was off about this entire case in the press, and Roberts tried to clarify and get to the truth. Roberts also questioned why Smollett refused to hand over his phone to police for the investigation. "They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to four hours. I'm sorry but I'm not gonna do that because I have private pictures and videos and numbers, my partner's number, my family's number, my castmates’ number, my friends' numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos." On the same day as the interviJussie Smollett wore a black suit over a white T-shirt as he was interviewed by Robin Roberts, who sported black slacks and a maroon, animal spotted blazer.ew, police obtained a search warrant and uncovered evidence tied to the crime including shoes, bleach and other materials related to the alleged crime.

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February 16, 2019

Abimbola Osundairo won a boxing match and wore a white boxing robe as his hands were raised in victory.
Source: MEGA

Police released the names of the accused, brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, both American citizens (whose family is from Nigeria). After speaking with the siblings, the police expressed a desire to interview Smollett once again after new information had been obtained. Late in the evening, the singer’s legal team released another statement, striking back at the heart of the argument that this crime was starting to look like a hoax. “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," the statement read from Smollett’s lawyers Victor Henderson and Todd Pugh, as quoted by The Washington Post. “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."

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February 17, 2019

The mugshot of Jussie Smollett, who wore a black puffy winter coat, was released by CPD.
Source: MEGA

Upon questioning, the Osundairo brothers claimed that it was Smollett who had paid them to attack him and to help organize and plan it. The two men agreed to work with police to understand the complete story. Thanks to a security cam, authorities now knew that the brothers had purchased the rope that was placed around the actor’s neck from a Chicago hardware store. The siblings released their own statement that read, “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."

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February 20, 2019

The world got a shock when the Chicago Police Department charged Smollett with disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, as reported by Radar Online. The felony charge could have resulted in a three-year prison sentence for Smollett, if found guilty. After considering his fame and the media circus that could ensue, the Chicago Police Department issued a tweet to request a peaceful surrender. "Detectives will make contact with his legal team to negotiate a reasonable surrender for his arrest," a law enforcement spokesman, Anthony Guglielmi, said in the Twitter post. Also included in the tweet was word that all the evidence in the case was being brought before a grand jury.

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February 20, 2019

//jussie smollett controversy empire producers stick with him
Source: Fox

That Wednesday in February was a busy day! Also releasing a statement was the studio behind Smollett’s hit show, Empire. At that time, they were still standing by their man. The network reported to Radar Online that "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."

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February 21, 2019

Eddie T. Johnson, leader of the Chicago Police Department, addressed the press in his formal police uniform, complete with yellow-checkered hat.
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Smollett turned himself in to authorities. Soon after, a visibly emotional Eddie T. Johnson, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department, took to a podium and held a press conference where he railed against the suspect and what he had put the city, police officers, the African American and gay community through. "Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. I am left hanging my head asking ‘why?’ Why would anyone, especially an African-American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations?” “How can an individual who's been embraced by the city of Chicago turn around and slap everyone in the city in the face with these false claims?" Johnson then went on to accuse Smollett of undertaking the entire endeavor all to increase his visibility on the hit show and thus, his salary. Producers responded by releasing a statement that they were still waiting for all the facts to come out. “We understand the seriousness of this matter and we respect the legal process. We are evaluating the situation and we are considering our options."

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March 8, 2019

Jussie Smollett wore a white dress shirt, black tie and black blazer at the Cook County Courthouse.
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The Cook County State Attorney’s Office revealed that the actor had officially been indicted by a grand jury with 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report.

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March 26, 2019

Jussie Smollett wore a dark navy dress coat with black leather gloves as he exited Cook County Court.
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Everybody was shocked when an emergency hearing was held in Cook County that resulted in all charges against the singer/actor being dropped, as reported by Radar Online. First, Smollett’s attorneys stated, “Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of fake and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgement. Jussie and many others were hurt by these unfair and unwarranted actions. This entire situation is a reminder that there should never be an attempt to prove a case in the court of public opinion. That is wrong. It is a reminder that the victim, in this case Jussie, deserves dignity and respect." Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emanuel, and Police Superintendent Johnson stood side-by-side at a press conference where they blasted Smollett. “Is there no decency in this man?” Johnson stated that the performer had hashed out a deal with prosecutors, all without law enforcement’s knowledge. "I'm sure we all know what happened this morning. Do I think justice was served? No. What do I think justice is? I think this city is owed an apology. At the end of the day, it's Mr. Smollett who committed this hoax, period. I heard that they wanted their day in court … so America could know the truth, and they chose to hide behind a secrecy of a brokered deal to circumvent the judicial system.”

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March 26, 2019

Patricia Brown Holmes wore a dark navy blue jacket as she stood at a cemetery.
Source: MEGA

"Jussie is relieved to have this situation behind him and is very much looking forward to getting back to focusing on his family, friends and career," his attorneys added to their statement.

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March 26, 2019

//jussie smollett controversy prosecutor speaks
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The prosecutor who was responsible for the charges having been dropped also spoke out on that fateful day … to the ABC affiliate in the Windy City. “We stand behind the investigation and the facts revealed,” Joe Magats said. The state’s attorney essentially admitted that he believed that Smollett orchestrated the entire affair. When the ABC reporter asked Magats if he believed the whole thing was a hoax, he simply replied, “Yes.” He then went on to insist that, “This was not an exoneration. To say that he was exonerated by us or anyone is not true.” As part of the deal, Smollett did have to forfeit 10% of the $100,000 bond he paid to be released from jail while awaiting trial. The singer was also expected to complete community service in a timely manner. According to Radar Online, Smollett completed 16 hours of community service at the organization Operation Push (People United to Save Humanity).

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June 4, 2019

Jamal Lyon (Jussie Smollett) sang on the hit show Empire, having worn a snowflake decorated collared shirt.
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Empire creator Lee Daniels (The Butler) revealed (reported by Radar Online) that Smollett would not return to the Fox musical drama that also stars Oscar winner Gabourey Sidibe and Xzibit. The show also announced that their sixth season would be its final.

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June 21, 2019

//jussie smollett controversy special prosecutor
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A special prosecutor was tapped — Dan Webb — by Cook County Judge Michael Toomin. As Radar Online reported, Webb would investigate the Smollett case, specifically how and why the charges were dropped. That meant that if any type of wrongdoing was discovered by the prosecutor, the actor could be charged once again without a violation of double jeopardy.

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November 21, 2019

//jussie smollett controversy sues city
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After months of virtual silence about the case, Smollett fired off a lawsuit against the City of Chicago for malicious prosecution, per Newsweek. Among the litigation materials, the actor felt that the city caused him “humiliation and extreme distress.”

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January 8, 2020

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, in a navy suit with grey tie, stood next to Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, who sported his law enforcement suit.
Source: Shutterstock

The City of Chicago returned the legal volley and sued Smollett, seeking that he pay back $130,000, as written by Radar Online. That’s the price tag for all the police overtime during the investigation. Then out of left field, a Cook County judge ordered Google to surrender over 12 months of material related to Smollett. Among the items requested were GPS location data, private messages to Webb and all photos contained on any of his devices.

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