In the weeks since “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett first filed a police report alleging he was the victim of a hate crime, the story has taken numerous twists and turns.
Here’s how the case has unfolded:
Chicago police confirmed they were investigating a possible hate crime against Smollett.
They said that in the early morning of January 29 he was attacked by two people who were “yelling out racial and homophobic slurs” and “poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim” in the Streeterville neighborhood where he had been staying while filming his hit TV show “Empire.”
Smollett took himself to Northwestern Memorial Hospital where he and a friend spoke with CNN’s Don Lemon and confirmed the incident had happened.
Smollett identifies as gay and since 2015 has portrayed the gay character of Jamal, a successful singer in the musical Lyon family on his show.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment offered their support after the reported attack.
“We are deeply saddened and outraged to learn that a member of our ‘Empire’ family, Jussie Smollett, was viciously attacked last night,” a representative of 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said in a statement to CNN. “We send our love to Jussie, who is resilient and strong, and we will work with law enforcement to bring these perpetrators to justice. The entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate – and especially against one of our own.”
Hollywood and fans rallied
Almost immediately, colleagues and fans of Smollett expressed shock, sadness and love for him.
“Empire” creator Lee Daniels posted his support on his official Instagram account.
“We have to love each other regardless of what sexual orientation we are because it shows that we are united on a united front,” Daniels said in a video. “And no racist f*** can come in and do the things that they did to you. Hold your head up, Jussie. I’m with you.”
More details start to emerge
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told CNN that authorities had video of Smollett entering the Loews Chicago after the alleged attack with what appeared to be a noose around his neck.
According to Guglielmi, Smollett told detectives that during his walk back from Subway sandwiches he was attacked by two men near the lower entrance of the Loews.
The actor told police the two men yelled “‘Empire’ fa***t” and “‘Empire’ n***er” while striking him, before putting a noose around his neck and pouring an unknown substance on him.
Police were called 30 to 40 minutes after the attack, Guglielmi said.
Investigators said they had the rope and Smollett’s sweater in their custody and were testing for the unknown substance on them.
We also learned that Smollett and his manager Brandon Moore said they were speaking on the phone at the time of the attack.
’Persons of interest’
Soon after Smollett filed his report, Chicago police found two “persons of interest” on video that they believed were the likely offenders. Police started searching the area of the alleged attack for cameras and witnesses. Chicago Police Detective Commander Edward Wodnicki said police interviewed more than 100 people. Wodnicki said they also found approximately 35 police cameras and over 20 private sector cameras in the area.
Video from those cameras led to a solid timeline of events, Wodnicki said.
The video showed each of the two men getting into a cab and then a rideshare. Eventually, Chicago police determined that they had gone to Chicago O’Hare International Airport and had taken a flight to Nigeria, purchasing a roundtrip ticket with a return date of February 13.
As police waited for the brothers to return, they continued their investigation, obtaining more than 50 search warrants and subpoenas for phone and social media records.
The men were taken into custody when they returned to the United States on February 13 as they came through airport customs. Once in custody, the two brothers both asked for an attorney. After speaking with the men, their attorney told police “something smelled fishy” and that she didn’t think the brothers were the offenders as had been reported.
Smollett’s family responds
Smollett is the member of a large family that includes several siblings who are also in the entertainment industry.
The family released a statement standing with the “Empire” actor and thanking everyone for their support after what they called an act of “domestic terrorism.”
“Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning,” the statement said, “His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice. “
Chicago police spokesman Guglielmi told CNN that a letter containing a white powder was received on January 22 at Cinespace Studios in Chicago, where “Empire” is filmed.”
The prompted a response from the hazardous materials unit, he said.
Guglielmi said authorities determined the powder to be aspirin, but he declined to give details on the content of the letter and said the FBI was leading the investigation into it.
A spokesperson for 20th Century Fox Entertainment, which produces the series, declined to comment when reached by CNN.
A neighbor who lives in Smollett’s apartment building told police she saw a “suspicious man” who had what appeared to be a rope outside the building, Guglielmi told CNN.
The unidentified neighbor also told police she saw another man in the vicinity of the building.
Detectives met with the woman and took her statement, Guglielmi said.
Smollett breaks his silence
In a written statement first published by Essence magazine, Smollett said “My body is strong but my soul is stronger.”
“I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level,” Smollett wrote. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”
’I can’t let attackers win’
Smollett performed his first concert since the reported attack at West Hollywood’s Troubadour club on February 3 and tearfully talked to the audience about what happened.
“I had to be here tonight, y’all, I couldn’t let those (expletives) … win,” he said. “Above all, I fought … (expletive) back.”
He also clarified his injuries, saying he was bruised but his ribs were neither cracked nor broken.
Hesitant to report the incident
According to a redacted Chicago police report obtained by CNN through a FOIA request, Smollett was initially hesitant to report the attack.
The report included details such as Smollett’s descriptions of the alleged attackers’ clothing and mentioned details previously released by authorities, including what the alleged attackers said to Smollett.
Smollett’s first TV interview
“Good Morning America” aired its interview with Smollett talking to Robin Roberts.
He said he was “forever changed” by the incident and was “pissed off” by both the attack and the doubt that was cast over his story.
Smollett told Roberts one of the attackers said, “‘This MAGA country, n****r’ and he punched me in the face so I punched his a** back.”
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot much more,” Smollett said. “And that says a lot about the place where we are as a country right now.”
He also said he respected victims of hate crimes too much to lie about what happened.
The star theorized that he had been targeted because of his vocal criticism against Donald Trump and his administration, telling Roberts, “I come really hard against 45.”
One of the two men investigators questioned as persons of interest appeared on Smollett’s series, according to police.
Guglielmi had said earlier on Twitter that “the people of interest are alleged to be in the area where a crime was reported. They are not considered suspects at this time.”
The two men are Nigerian brothers – identified as Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo – and were questioned by police after flying into Chicago-O’Hare International Airport from Nigeria, Guglielmi said.
Police said they searched the men’s apartment earlier.
Two men arrested
On February 13, police took the two persons of interest into custody.
Early in the day on February 15, Chicago police said the two brothers were being treated as “potential suspects” and that detectives had “probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime.”
Police did not say what the men were accused of or what the alleged crime might have been.
Later that same day, the men were released without charge “due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations,” Guglielmi said. “And detectives have additional investigative work to complete.”
Upon release, the men were classified as witnesses instead of persons of interest.
Smollett denies he orchestrated the attack
Smollett’s attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, issued a statement to CNN. They stated that Smollett was angry about the latest developments, which included two police sources telling CNN that Chicago police believe the actor paid the brothers to orchestrate the assault on him.
“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,” the statement read. “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.”
Smollett’s attorneys said they expect further updates from Chicago police on the investigation and will continue cooperating with authorities.
Brothers push back on their portrayal
In a joint statement issued Monday to WBBM - TV, the men said: “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.”
Supporters decide to wait and see
As new information emerged, some of Smollett’s initial supporters adopted a wait-and-see stance.
“The information is still coming out,” Sen. Cory Booker said. “I’m going to withhold until all the information actually comes out from on the record sources.”
Booker, who is running for president, was one of several Democrats to weigh in on initial reports of the attack.
Director Ava DuVernay also weighed in.
“Despite the inconsistencies, I can’t blindly believe Chicago PD. The department that covered up shooting Laquan McDonald over a dozen times? That operated an off-site torture facility?” DuVernay wrote in a tweet. “That one? I’ll wait. Whatever the outcome, this won’t stop me from believing others. It can’t.”
Grand Jury scheduled
The Osundairo brothers went before a grand jury, Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson said.
At one point, Smollett’s attorneys asked that the grand jury proceeding be postponed so he could provide new details, but “essentially they gave us no new information,” Cmdr. Edward Wodnicki said.
The proceeding went on as scheduled. The grand jury heard the evidence, police said, the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office approved a felony disorderly conduct charge against the actor.
Prosecutor opts out
The county’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the