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A Timeline of the Jussie Smollett Investigation 

A Timeline of the Jussie Smollett Investigation

The investigation into the alleged hate crime reported by Empire star Jussie Smollett last month has garnered national attention. And as many details emerge that are either incorrect or have yet to be confirmed, we felt it important to lay out the timeline of events that led us here.

Here’s what is confirmed and where it's headed. We will update this as more develops::

January 22

Smollett receives a letter at the studio where Empire is filmed. The letter contains threats saying “Jussie Smollett you will die” and “MAGA” and has a white powder, which was later determined to be a crushed over-the-counter medication. According to BuzzFeed, the FBI currently has the letter.  

January 25

Smollett texts Abimbola Osundairo, telling him “I might need your help on the low. You around to meet up to talk face to face?” Smollett has known Osundairo since 2017. Osundairo tells him he is leaving for Nigeria on the night of Jan. 29.

When Smollett meets Osundairo, he tells Osundairo that he’s displeased with how Empire handled the anti-gay and racist letter he received in the mail. TMZ reports that there is currently a dispute between local police and federal authorities as to whether Smollett sent the letter.

Prosecutors allege that during a shared car ride, Smollett told Osundairo of his plan to stage an attack and suggested Osundairo and his brother carry it out. Smollett allegedly wanted the attack to happen on the night of January 28 and specifically requested several of the attack’s infamous details, including placing a rope around his neck and yelling “this is MAGA country.” As previously reported, the plan originally called for the brothers to pour gasoline on Smollett, though they eventually used bleach.

January 27

Smollett rehearses the attack with the brothers, according to prosecutors. They tour the scene and he provides details about the attack, originally planned for 10 p.m. on January 28. This is where prosecutors allege the substance they planned to pour on him changed from gasoline to bleach. Prosecutors also say that Smollett told the men not to bring their cellphones and showed the surveillance camera that would capture the attack. Smollett gave the brothers a $3,500 check during this dry run, according to prosecutors.

January 28

The Osundairo brothers purchase materials for the attack, including red hats and rope. According to BuzzFeed, the brothers purchased the items with a $100 bill Smollett had given them three days prior. On the 28th, Abel Osundairo deposits the $3,500 check.

The attack is pushed back when Smollett’s flight into Chicago from New York City is delayed.

January 29 (morning)

The actor files a report with Chicago police that he was the victim of a bias-motivated attack by two white men at 2 a.m., while walking home from a Subway restaurant.

Smollett tells officers who conducted his first interview at his home an hour after the incident that the men used racist and homophobic language, punched him, and poured bleach on his body. He also states that they put a rope around his neck, which was still present on him when police arrived at his home.

“This is MAGA country” was allegedly yelled during the incident.

The actor tells police that his manager was on the phone during the attack and could corroborate the incident. Smollett then transfers himself to an area hospital, where he was treated by medical providers and held overnight.

Chicago police put out a statement: “Given the severity of the allegations, we are taking this investigation very seriously and treating it as a possible hate crime.”

January 29 (afternoon)

Elected officials and celebrities begin to release statements of outrage at the crime and support of Smollett.

Many Democratic leaders immediately label the incident a hate crime, with senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker using it to highlight anti-lynching legislation they have introduced.

Major LGBTQ organizations also put out statements highlighting how the incident is connected to rising hate crimes in America that are often underreported.

January 30

Chicago police provide an update stating they’ve reviewed “hundreds” of hours of footage and were able to find Smollett walking downtown. However, no footage shows an attack.

Police release a blurry photo of two suspects who are named “persons of interest.”

Fox Studios confirms that hate mail had been sent to Smollett just one week before this attack that depicted a man being shot alongside hate speech. The FBI immediately launches an investigation into the mail.

No suspects have yet to be identified, and Smollett is still considered a victim by Chicago police.

January 31

President Donald Trump responds to the attack while being interviewed at the White House by the press corps. The president provides sympathy to the actor, stating: “It doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.”

Smollett’s family, which consists of well-known activists and actors, release a statement standing behind him.

February 1

Smollett breaks his silence and releases a statement saying, “My body is strong but my soul is stronger.” He emphasizes that the incident was bias-motivated and speaks on overarching violence LGBTQ people, specifically trans people, face regularly that doesn’t get discussed.

He also states that his accounts of the event are “100% factual.”

Police have not named any suspects in the attack and continue their investigation.

February 2

Smollett makes his first public appearance since the event at a pre-planned concert in West Hollywood. He uses the performance to make more statements about the attack and passionately refers to himself as the “gay Tupac.”

He also uses the stage to stress that he fought back against his attackers, who he identifies as white Trump supporters.

February 13

Chicago police arrest Abel and Ola Osundairo at O’Hare International Airport after their return flight from Nigeria and bring them in for questioning. Their home on the north side of Chicago is searched and it becomes known that one of them worked on Empire.

February 14

Smollett's first media appearance airs on Good Morning America, where he stands by his original story. He expresses anger at not being believed and says that naysayers "don't even want to see the truth."

Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker pass their bipartisan legislation in the Senate that aims to make lynching a federal hate crime. Smollett's story is used in statements before the vote.

Local reports begin to emerge that sources inside the police department believe these men helped coordinate the incident with Smollett. Chicago police immediately deny this information by calling it “unconfirmed.”

Reports also state that Smollett hired the men after finding out he was being written off Empire. Fox immediately denies the claim, stating he is integral to the show.

February 15

The two men being held by Chicago police are named suspects in the case and will be held in custody for interviewing. No charges are filed and they are released after producing new evidence in the investigation.

The Advocate confirms that Smollett does know the two men.

February 16

Sources inform media outlets that the new evidence produced is a receipt showing the purchase of the rope used in the attack. Police confirm that these men are the two subjects found in released screenshots of video surveillance from that night.

Smollett’s spokespeople confirm to The Advocate that the actor has retained high-profile defense attorneys who specialize in criminal investigations.

A Chicago police spokesperson says this new evidence has changed the “trajectory” of the investigation and they’ve requested to interview Smollett immediately.

February 16 (late night)

Jussie Smollett's camp releases a statement through his new criminal defense team that denies all reports that the actor coordinated the January attack.

“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," his legal team writes. "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."

His camp finally confirms that the men did know Smollett and that one was a personal trainer he hired for a music video. They also state they are cooperating with police.

February 19

The FBI and U.S. Postal Service expand their investigation into hate mail received by Smollett to include him as a suspect. The agencies would not confirm officially.

The actor has yet to meet with Chicago police for follow-up interviews after the release of two men who have produced evidence that changed the "trajectory" of the investigation.

Reports emerged Tuesday morning that Smollett's role in Empire is being reduced as production continues. His spokespeople would not comment on the reduction, but did state the actor has filmed many scenes already.

At least one notable plotline featuring Smollett’s character was set to debut this season, The Advocate confirms, but it has not been confirmed as to whether these scenes will air.

Meanwhile, Chicago police announce they received a tip that Smollett was seen in his apartment building with the two brothers before the incident. Hours later, police say Smollett was not with the brothers before the attack in the building after an interview with a potential witness.

The brothers are seen at the Chicago courthouse where they met with prosecutors. An hour after their departure, the top prosecutor in Chicago, State's Attorney Kim Foxx, recuses herself from the case before any charges are made. The State's Attorney's office wouldn't elaborate on why.

February 20

Chicago police name Jussie Smollett as a suspect in the investigation into his reported hate-incident. After weeks of investigation, police announce they believe the actor filed false police reports.

A Grand Jury is empaneled and evidence is presented. The Osundairo brothers are interviewed for over two hours, according to their lawyer.

Charges against Smollett are approved by the State's Attorney's office and he is charged with a class 4 felony for disorderly conduct related to filing a false police report.

February 21

Chicago police first release details that Smollett paid the brothers $3,500 to stage the attack and Smollett is charged with a class 4 felony for filing a false police report.

Chicago police hold a press conference where they call Smollett’s actions “shameful” and allege that he staged the attack due to dissatisfaction with his Empire salary. A judge sets Smollett’s bail at $100,000. Smollett pays $10,000 and is released but must surrender his passport after being deemed a flight risk.

February 22

Producers announce that Smollett’s Empire character, Jamal Lyon, will not appear on the fifth season’s final two episodes. The producers say that they want to avoid “further disruption” on set.

Reporting done by Zach Stafford and Mathew Rodriguez

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