Jussie Smollett charges dropped: Everything we know about the 'Empire' star's case

Chicago prosecutors dropped all 16 counts against Smollett, after initially alleging he had made up a hate crime.

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By Elisha Fieldstadt and Janelle Griffith

Less than three weeks after being indicted on 16 felony counts, Chicago prosecutors on Tuesday dropped all charges against "Empire" actor Jussie Smollett, who had been accused of filing a false police report claiming he was the victim of a hate crime attack carried out by two men on a city street in January.

Here is what else we know in the twisting timeline of events:

Initial report

On Jan. 29, Smollett filed a report with the Chicago Police Department stating that he had gone out for food at around 2 a.m. after returning from New York, when masked men hurled racist and homophobic slurs before beating him. The 36-year-old actor, who is black and gay also said his attackers poured what he believed was bleach over him and put a noose around his neck in the upscale neighborhood of Streeterville. Many celebrities, including "Empire" cast members and gay rights advocates showed their support for Smollett on social media.

Possible hate crime

From the onset, the police department said it was investigating the alleged attack as a possible hate crime.

'Persons of interest'

Chicago police said on Jan. 30 that a thorough review of security video in the alleged assault and battery on Smollett revealed "potential persons of interest" that investigators would like to question. Officials released pictures from a surveillance camera located near where Smollett says he was attacked. Before that break, the case seemed to stall as detectives reviewed hundreds of hours of security and other types of video and came up with no leads.

Decline to share phone records

On Jan. 31, Chicago police said Smollett declined to provide telephone records that could show he was speaking with his manager just as the alleged assault happened, which he had claimed. The manager had told police he heard the attackers say, "This is MAGA country," during the assault, officials said.

President Donald Trump weighed in that day from the Oval Office saying that the attack was "horrible" and that it "doesn’t get worse."

Smollett family speaks out

On the same day, authorities said Smollett refused to turn over his cellphone to investigators, his family released a statement saying: "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."

Treating him like a victim

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie T. Johnson told NBC Chicago on Feb. 1 that detectives would not demand Smollett hand over his cellphone or phone records. Johnson said the allegations as described to police "are horrendous, horrible, and quite frankly cowardly."

"He is a victim, and we treat him like a victim. He's been very cooperative," Johnson said.

'100% factual'

Smollett released his first official statement on Feb. 1, thanking family, friends and fans for their support in the wake of the alleged attack.

"I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level," he said. "Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served."

Partial records turned over

Smollett on Feb. 11 gave detectives partial records of his cellphone usage, marking 13 days since the alleged assault. The actor gave investigators a PDF file containing a redacted list of his calls, a police spokesman told NBC News.

Anger at those who doubted his story

In his first interview about the incident, the actor told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he was angry about the alleged attack and at those who doubted his story.

Social media users began to cast doubt over his claims after police said they were not able to find video of the alleged attack.

Smollett said he didn't want to hand over his phone because he has "private pictures and videos and numbers," and he was already wary because of the way some reacted to his account of the attack.

He also said that he believed if he had claimed his attacker was a minority, no one would have doubted him.

'Persons of interest' identified

On Feb. 14, hours after the airing of Smollett's ABC News interview, Chicago police announced that "through meticulous investigation" they had identified two persons of interest.

The men being questioned by police were two Nigerian brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, that investigators said were the same two men seen in the surveillance video pictures they had released.

Police later said they searched at least one property in connection with their investigation but still had no motive for the attack.

Guglielimi said Feb. 15 that the Osundairo brothers had been arrested on suspicion that they may have been involved in a crime, but they hadn't been charged in the attack. Guglielimi added that at least one of the men worked on "Empire."

Reports of a hoax deemed unconfirmed

Guglielmi tweeted Feb. 14 that local reports surfacing that the attack was a hoax were unconfirmed.

He said Johnson had contacted one Chicago news outlet to inform them that "their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate."

'Pleased there is progress'

In a statement to NBC News earlier on Feb. 14, a representative for Smollett welcomed the identification of two persons of interest.

"We are pleased there is progress in the case and are waiting to hear further details," his representative said.

Released due to new evidence

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On the night of Feb. 15, police said they released the two men who had been questioned in the case without charge, and that they are no longer considered suspects.

Probe shifts to whether actor staged incident

On Feb. 16, a police source familiar with the investigation told NBC News that the probe has shifted into whether the actor paid two men who were questioned in the case to stage an assault.

A Chicago police spokesman said Saturday night that "the trajectory of the investigation" changed.

"We've reached out to the Empire cast member's attorney to request a follow-up interview," the spokesman said.

Smollett’s attorneys denied any suggestion that the actor was complicit. They said Smollett is the victim of a hate crime and that he has been cooperative with police.

'Follow-ups to complete'

The Chicago Police department on Feb. 17 said investigators need to speak with Smollett after a police source had confirmed to NBC News and other media outlets that the probe had shifted into whether the actor paid two men who were questioned in the case to stage an assault.

"While we are not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what's been unofficially released, there are some developments in this investigation and detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident," Chicago police spokesman Guglielmi said in a tweet.

'No plans to meet with police'

Attorneys for Smollett said that he would not be meeting with Chicago police on Feb. 18, after the department said it needed to conduct follow-up interviews with him regarding the alleged attack he reported last month.

"There are no plans for Jussie Smollett to meet with Chicago police today. Any news reports suggesting otherwise are inaccurate. Smollett's attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf," said Smollett's attorneys, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson.

Top prosecutor recuses herself

The top prosecutor in the Chicago area, Cook County State’s Attorney Kimberly Foxx, on Feb. 19 recused herself from the case.

The state's attorney stepped away from the matter because she had had "conversations with a family member of Jussie Smollett about the incident and their concerns, and facilitated a connection to the Chicago Police Department," a spokesperson for the office said.

'Consummate professional'

On Feb. 20, Fox studio denied a report that Smollett's scenes on "Empire" had been significantly reduced in the wake of suggestions that he may have staged the attack on himself.

'Considered a suspect'

Smollett was charged Feb. 20 with felony disorderly conduct for the allegedly false report he made with Chicago police. He turned himself in the next day.

"Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony)," police spokesman Guglielmi announced in a tweet. "Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury."

'Enjoys presumption of innocence'

In a statement released after Smollett was charged, his attorneys said he "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."

"Given these circumstances, we intend to conduct a thorough investigation and to mount an aggressive defense," attorneys Pugh and Henderson said.

'Took advantage of pain and anger of racism'

Johnson accused Smollett of staging the attack on himself because he was unhappy with his salary on "Empire."

"This announcement today recognizes that 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career," Johnson said at a news conference.

Police also said Smollett sent himself a letter containing racist language, and when that did not work, he paid the Osundairo brothers $3,500 to orchestrate the attack.

'What about MAGA'

Trump, who said earlier in the investigation that the alleged attack was "horrible," addressed Smollett directly in a tweet on Thursday saying: ".@JussieSmollett - what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!? #MAGA"

Cut from 'Empire'

As a result of the allegations against Smollett, his role on "Empire," where he played Jamal Lyon, was cut from the final episodes of the fifth season "to avoid further disruption on set," the show's executive producers said in a joint statement on Feb. 22.

Free on Bond

Smollett posted $10,000 of his $100,000 bond on Feb. 21, and a Chicago judge later ruled he would be allowed to travel.

'Tremendous regret'

A lawyer representing Ola and Abel Osundairo released a statement on Feb. 28 saying her clients "have tremendous regret over their involvement in this situation, and they understand how it has impacted people across the nation, particularly minority communities and especially those who have been victims of hate crimes themselves."

'More evidence'

Johnson said on March 1 that there was additional evidence in the case that hadn't been made public.

"As far as the evidence goes, we laid everything out in the bond proffer, the highlights of it, but there’s additional evidence out there that we haven’t released yet, but it’ll help support that the alleged incident didn’t occur the way that he claimed," Johnson said.

16 counts

Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts of disorderly conduct for making a false report by a grand jury in Chicago on March 8.

All charges dropped

Chicago prosecutors abruptly dropped all of the charges against Smollett on March 26.

During a brief news conference after the announcement, Smollett said he has been "truthful" from the beginning. "This has been an incredibly difficult time. Honestly, one of the worst of my life," he said.

Chicago Police Department commander Ed Wodnicki told NBC Chicago that the reversal of charges was a "punch in the gut" and prosecution did not discuss their decision with the police department prior to Tuesday's announcement.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Johnson railed against the decision to drop the charges.

"This is without a doubt, a whitewash of justice and sends a clear message that if you are in a position of influence and power you'll get treated one way, other people will be treated another way," Emanuel said.

Questioning the top prosecutor

Chicago police union, the Fraternal Order of Police, asked the Department of Justice to investigate Foxx’s role in the decision to not prosecute Smollett.

The union had accused Foxx on March 19 of interfering in the Smollett case before recusing herself after the Chicago Sun-Times that Tina Tchen, a Chicago lawyer and former chief of staff to first lady Michelle Obama, had put Foxx in touch with members of Jussie Smollet's family days after he told police he was the victim of a homophobic, racist attack.

There was no direct response from Foxx. Her spokeswoman, Tandra Simonton, insisted that the Smollett case was treated no differently from the more than 5,700 other “cases for alternative prosecution” that the office has handled in the past two years.

“We did not exonerate Mr. Smollett,” Simonton added. “The charges were dropped in return for Mr. Smollett’s agreement to do community service and forfeit his $10,000 bond to the City of Chicago. Without the completion of these terms, the charges would not have been dropped. This outcome was met under the same criteria that would occur for and is available to any defendant with similar circumstances.”