Jussie Smollett

From Reported Attack to Alleged Hoax, Here's How the Jussie Smollett Saga Unfolded

As jurors near their time to decide whether Smollett was the victim of a crime or the director behind a staged plot, many are wondering what exactly happened the night of the incident in question

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In the nearly three years since former "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett reported being attacked by two men in Chicago, the case went from being an alleged hate crime to an alleged hoax, with arrests, charges, indictments and plenty of questions.

Now, as jurors near their time to decide whether Smollett was the victim of a crime or the director behind a staged plot, many are wondering what exactly happened the night of the incident in question.

Here's a look back at the case and how it all unfolded.

  • On Jan. 29, Smollett told Chicago police he was physically attacked by two men in downtown Chicago while out getting food from a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. The Black and openly gay actor tells authorities the men used racial and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an "unknown substance" on him. Police say Smollett told detectives that the attackers yelled he was in "MAGA country," an apparent reference to former President Donald Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign slogan. Police say Smollett had scratches on his face and bruises but no broken ribs or serious injuries.
  • On Jan. 30, Chicago police said they've reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage, including of Smollett walking downtown, but none of the videos show the attack. Police obtained and released images of two people they would like to question. Reports of Smollett's attack drew outrage and support on social media, including from then-U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush of Chicago and TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres.
  • On Jan. 31, Smollett's family issued a statement calling the attack a racial and homophobic hate crime. Smollett's family said he "has told the police everything" and "his story has never changed," disputing assertions leveled on social media that he has been less than cooperative and changed his story.
  • The next day, Smollett issued a statement telling people that he is OK and thanking them for their support. He said he is working with authorities and has been "100 percent factual and consistent on every level."
  • On Feb. 2, Smollett gave a concert in West Hollywood, California, opening with an emotional speech, saying he had to play the show because he couldn't let his attackers win.
  • On Feb. 12, Chicago police said Smollett turned over some, but not all, of the phone records detectives requested as part of their investigation. Police say the heavily redacted files aren't sufficient. Smollett said he redacted information to protect the privacy of contacts and people not relevant to the attack.
  • On Feb. 13, police put a team in place with the FBI, customs and airport partners to locate the brothers as they re-enter into the U.S. at customs and take them into custody. Both men asked for an attorney.
  • On Feb. 14, Smollett appeared in his first television interview since the alleged attack, saying he's "pissed off" at not just the attack but those doubting his story. Chicago detectives said they're interviewing two "persons of interest" from surveillance video. Chicago police later said local media reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed. Producers of "Empire" disputed media reports that Smollett's character was being written off the show.
  • The following day, police said the two "persons of interest" are now considered potential suspects. The men were arrested and being interrogated but were not yet charged with a crime. 
  • On Feb. 15, after about 47 hours of the brothers being in custody, the brothers are released without charges. They are now classified as witnesses.
  • On Feb. 16, police said the investigation "shifted." Police said they requested a follow-up interview with Smollett. Smollett's lawyers said the actor feels "victimized" by reports that he played a role in the assault.
  • On Feb. 19, Chicago's top prosecutor, Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation. Her office said the decision was made "out of an abundance of caution ... to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case." Foxx later said the reason for the recusal is that she had conversations with a Smollett family member after the incident was reported in late January.
  • On Feb. 20, Smollett was officially suspected of filing a false police report, police say. Police also said that two brothers who were questioned about the attack were testifying before a grand jury and detectives were presenting evidence to the grand jury.
  • On Feb. 21, Chicago police said Smollett turned himself in to face a felony charge of disorderly conduct. Then-Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said Smollett staged a racist and homophobic attack because he was unhappy with his salary and wanted publicity. Investigators revealed they have a $3,500 check that Smollett used to pay the two brothers to help him.
  • On Feb. 22, producers revealed Smollett's character will be removed from the final two episodes of the "Empire" season
  • On March 7, a Cook County grand jury returned a 16-count indictment charging Smollett with falsely reporting an offense..
  • One month later, on March 26, all criminal charges against Smollett were dropped. "Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him," attorneys Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes said in a statement.
  • Two days later, city officials say Chicago is seeking $130,000 from Smollett to cover the costs of the investigation into his reported beating, which police alleged was staged. A letter sent to Smollett said over two dozen detectives and officers investigated the entertainer's report that he was attacked, racking up a "substantial number of overtime hours."
  • On April 11, the city of Chicago filed a lawsuit in Cook County court seeking to recoup the costs of investigating the reported attack.
  • On April 23, the two Nigerian brothers who said they helped Smollett stage the attack on himself filed a defamation lawsuit against the actor's attorneys.
  • On Aug. 23, a judge named former U.S. Attorney Dan Webb as special prosecutor to look into why charges against Smollett were dropped.
  • On Feb. 11, 2020, Webb said grand jury returned six-count indictment against Smollett, accusing him of lying to police.
  • On Feb. 24, 2020, Smollett pleaded not guilty to the restored charges.
  • On Oct. 15, 2021, Judge James Linn denies a last-ditch effort to dismiss the criminal case against Smollett and sets his trial for Nov. 29.
NBC Chicago/Associated Press
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