In late January, Empire actor Jussie Smollett was beaten by two men who yelled racist and homophobic slurs at him, and put his head in a noose — an attack that was first investigated as a violent hate crime, but has since grown much more complicated. In less than a month, Chicago police have dropped their investigation into the two now-identified “persons of interest,” and Smollett has faced accusations of orchestrating the attack on himself, leading everyone from Cardi B to 2020 presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Cory Booker to weigh in on the the case. On February 20, Smollett was named a suspect in his own attack.
While details continue to emerge, below, here’s a full timeline of the Smollett case.
January 22: Racist, homophobic letter arrives at Empire set
Less than a week before the attack, Smollett receives a racist and homophobic letter containing white powder at the Fox studio where Empire is filmed. (This letter later leads some to believe the attack was premeditated.)
January 28: Smollett is attacked
According to initial reports, on Monday evening, two white men wearing ski masks approach Smollett outside of a Subway in Chicago, where they beat him up, pour “an unknown chemical substance” on him, and put a noose around his neck. Per TMZ, the men also call Smollett “that f**got Empire n*****” and yell, “This is MAGA country.” (Smollett is black and openly gay.)
That night, Smollett checks into Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he is reported to be in “good condition.”
January 30: Police look into “persons of interest”
The Chicago Police Department releases an image of the two “potential persons of interest,” as captured by a nearby security camera.
January 31: Smollett’s family responds
Smollett’s family condemns the attack in a statement, saying, “To be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime.”
February 1: Smollett makes first comments following attack
Smollett breaks his silence in a statement to Essence, saying, “My body is strong but my soul is stronger.”
“More importantly, I want to say thank you,” the statement continues. “The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”
February 2: Smollett makes first public appearance
At the Troubadour nightclub in West Hollywood, Smollett makes his first public appearance at a sold-out show, where he opens up about his attack and says he will “always stand for love.”
“The most important thing I have to say is thank you so much and that I’m okay,” he says. “I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to. And I’m gonna stand strong with y’all … And I hope that you all will stand with me.”
February 13: Two men are arrested
CPD arrests two men on suspicion of carrying out the attack against Smollett. They are later identified as Nigerian brothers Olabinjo Osundairo and Abimbola Osundairo, who have connections to Empire. (In 2015, the former appeared as an extra.)
February 14: Good Morning America interview and the “potential persons of interest”
Smollett visits the Good Morning America studio on Valentine’s Day, where he gives his first in-depth interview about what transpired the night of the attack. At this point, some were starting to question the validity of Smollett’s account, as well as why he was apprehensive about giving his phone to the police, all of which Smollett addresses on the show.
The same day, communications officer Anthony Guglielmi releases information about the two persons of interest.
“Police have identified the men only as two Nigerian brothers,” reads Guglielmi’s update. “Police have been questioning them since they were picked up by officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on Wednesday after returning to the city from Nigeria. On Thursday, police served a search warrant at their home.”
February 15: The two suspects are released
“Due to new evidence,” CPD releases the two suspects and drops the charges against them, per a tweet from Guglielmi.
February 16: CPD sources suggest that Smollett may have orchestrated the attack
Two law-enforcement sources tell CNN that CPD believes Smollett may have paid the two men, who are now cooperating with the police, to stage the attack against him. According to the sources, CPD has records of the two released suspects purchasing the rope that was tied around Smollett’s neck.
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” CPD says in a statement. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
This narrative contradicts statements that CPD made on January 14, soon after media outlets started to report the theory that Smollett staged his attack: that police had “no evidence” to suggest that Smollett fabricated details of his assault. (Smollett’s representative did not comment at this time.)
On Sunday, February 18, senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, both of whom initially condemned the attack, individually said they were reserving judgment, as details are still unfolding. “It’s something we should all take seriously whenever anyone alleges that kind of behavior, but there should be an investigation,” Harris said.
February 18: Smollett’s attorneys say they will “keep an active dialogue” with CPD
While CPD says that Smollett is not a suspect at this time, the police department tells his legal team that they want to speak with him again about the night of January 29. Per Smollett’s attorneys, he denies that he had anything to do with the attack.
In an emailed statement earlier Monday, Anne Kavanaugh, a spokesperson for Smollett’s lawyers, said that his legal team “will keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf.”
February 19: Smollett is cut from Empire episodes
Amid conflicting reports about the case, sources tell Deadline that Empire has slashed the yet-to-be-filmed scenes in which Smollett was set to appear. Meanwhile, CPD is still requesting that Smollett submit to an interview, but the actor’s attorneys have not yet indicated when — if ever — he will be willing to speak with police.
Later in the evening, two sources with knowledge of the investigation tell CBS Chicago that the Osundairo brothers are claiming that Smollett sent himself the racist letter that arrived at the Empire set; they also say that Smollett staged the attack after the letter didn’t spark the outcry he sought.
February 20: Call from Smollett’s attorneys delays grand jury testimony and Smollett is considered a suspect
Just minutes before the Osundairo brothers are scheduled to testify in front of the Leighton Criminal Courthouse grand jury, CBS Chicago reports that Cook County State’s Attorney’s office receives a call from Smollett’s attorneys, leading prosecutors to postpone the testimony. (The specifics of the call have not yet been reported.)
On Wednesday evening, Guglielmi tweeted that Smollett is now officially considered a suspect “for filing a false police report,” and that detectives are presenting evidence before a grand jury.
“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 statement reads. “Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense.”
February 21: Smollett turns himself in to police custody
In the early morning, Smollett turns himself in to police custody, where he is arrested and charged with filing a false police report. (If found guilty, Smollett could serve up to three years.)
Hours later, Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson holds a press briefing, where he essentially confirms all the details that anonymous sources have been leaking to the media: that Smollett orchestrated the attack because he was dissatisfied with his Empire salary on the TV series, and that he sent the threatening letter to himself.