Actor and musician Jussie Smollett goes on trial Monday. Since he first reported being the victim of a hate crime, his case has been a battleground in our country’s cultural and political wars. Smollett said the attackers hurled their racist and anti-gay slurs with a Trump slogan and a noose, but Chicago police suspected it was all a hoax.
After two bodybuilding brothers emerged as witnesses, Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct. Then Cook County’s top prosecutor dropped the charges, igniting a firestorm of criticism. Another investigation led to new charges. The case cost Smollett his role on the TV drama “Empire.” Amid ridicule and scorn, he found some support from activists who pointed to CPD’s history of abuses and corruption.
Here is the timeline.
Jan. 22, 2019: A week before the reported hate crime, Smollett receives an envelope addressed to him at the Chicago studios where “Empire” is produced. On the outside of the envelope someone has written “MAGA” where the return-address is typically located. Inside the envelope is a page with cut-out letters: “Smollett Jussie you will die black f—.” The envelope also contains white powder determined to be crushed pain-relief tablets.
Jan. 29, 2019: Smollett reports he was attacked by two masked men while out getting food from a sandwich shop around 2 a.m. The actor says he was walking back to his downtown Chicago apartment when the men yelled racist and homophobic slurs, told him “This is MAGA country,” punched him, kicked him, doused him with bleach and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Jan. 30, 2019: Chicago police say detectives are reviewing hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage but none of it shows the reported attack. Police release images of two “persons of interest” in the area at the time whom they would like to question. The images are dark, the faces unclear.
Jan. 30, 2019: Smollett’s reported attack draws outrage and support from politicians and celebrities including U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris of California, television host Ellen DeGeneres and Oscar winner Viola Davis.
Jan. 31, 2019: President Donald Trump tells reporters the reported attack is “horrible” and says, “It doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.” But skepticism about the attack spreads on social media. Smollett’s relatives issue a statement calling the incident an act of “domestic terrorism” and a “racial and homophobic hate crime.” The family says he “has told the police everything” and “his story has never changed.”
Feb. 1, 2019: Smollett issues a statement telling people that he is OK, thanking them for their support and disputing claims that he’s not being truthful with law enforcement officials.
Feb. 2, 2019: Smollett gives a concert in West Hollywood, California, his first performance since the reported attack. He tells the crowd he had to go on with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win. “And above all, I fought the f--- back,” he says to cheers. “I’m the gay Tupac.”
Feb. 12, 2019: Chicago police say Smollett has turned over some phone records that detectives requested. The actor says the records were redacted to protect the privacy of contacts and people not relevant to the attack.
Feb. 14, 2019: Smollett gives a national television interview, countering doubts about the reported attack. He says he is convinced that the men in the surveillance images were his attackers. “I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”
Feb. 14, 2019: Chicago police announce that detectives are interviewing the two “persons of interest” captured on video near the alleged attack. The two men, bodybuilding brothers in their 20s, were brought for questioning from O’Hare International Airport after arriving from Nigeria. The men will be identified as Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo.
Feb. 15, 2019: A Chicago police spokesman says the Osundairo brothers remain in custody and that “detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime.” Twelve hours later, police release the brothers without any charges.
Feb. 16, 2019: Chicago police are now investigating whether Smollett paid the Osundairo brothers to stage an attack, local news outlets report. The brothers’ attorney says they are “innocent of the charge and they’re going home.”
Feb. 16, 2019: In a statement, Smollett’s lawyers insist the attack happened: “Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with. He has 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.” The statement says one of the Osundairo brothers was Smollett’s personal trainer. The brothers also reportedly worked with Smollett on “Empire.”
Feb. 20, 2019: Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx’s office says she has recused herself from the case. An aide to Foxx says the state’s attorney made the decision “out of an abundance of caution” because she spoke to one of Smollett’s relatives after he reported the attack and she acted as a go-between with Chicago police. The recusal’s nature and Foxx’s continued influence on the prosecution will become long-lasting focuses of controversy.
Feb. 20, 2019: Foxx’s office charges Smollett with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report about the incident.
Feb. 21, 2019: After surrendering to Chicago police, Smollett is arrested and booked.
Feb. 21, 2019: At a news conference, Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson says Smollett “took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career.” The top cop says he’s worried that hate-crime reports will now meet greater public skepticism.
Feb. 21, 2019: A Cook County prosecutor presents the state’s detailed case — known as a bond proffer — to a judge in Chicago. The judge scolds Smollett while setting his bond at $100,000, which requires a payment of 10%. Later in the day, the actor pays $10,000 and is released.
Feb. 21, 2019: A statement from Smollett’s attorneys blasts the police and insists he is innocent: “The presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”
Feb. 22, 2019: “Empire” producers announce Smollett will not appear in the final episodes of the show’s fifth season.
March 7, 2019: A Cook County grand jury indicts Smollett on 16 counts of felony disorderly conduct for allegedly lying to police about the attack. An attorney for Smollett calls the charges “prosecutorial overkill.”
March 14, 2019: Smollett pleads not guilty to the 16 counts.
March 26, 2019: Cook County prosecutors drop all charges against Smollett, who agrees to forfeit the $10,000 in bond money he paid. A statement from Smollett’s attorneys says his record “has been wiped clean.” But First Assistant State’s Attorney Joseph Magats says the move does not exonerate Smollett. He insists that the prosecutors “stand behind the CPD investigation.” But letting the actor off without a guilty plea ignites a firestorm of criticism, especially from police officers who spent a lot of time investigating the alleged hoax.
March 27, 2019: Foxx, the state’s attorney, defends her office’s decision to drop the charges against Smollett. “There’s some people who were never going to be satisfied unless Mr. Smollett spent many nights in prison, and then there were others who believed that the charging of 16 counts of disorderly conduct was excessive,” Foxx tells WBEZ. “In our line of work, we cannot be driven by emotion. We have to be driven by facts.”
March 28, 2019: President Trump tweets that the FBI and Department of Justice will review the Smollett case, calling it “outrageous” and an “embarrassment to our Nation!”
March 28, 2019: An attorney for Smollett says the Osundairo brothers, who are Black, may have worn white makeup to disguise themselves while attacking her client, which would explain why Smollett identified his attackers as white.
March 28, 2019: Setting the stage for a lawsuit against Smollett, a letter from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s administration demands “immediate payment” of $130,106 spent on overtime for the investigation. The letter says “over two dozen detectives and police officers participated” in the probe.
March 29, 2019: Foxx, the target of increasingly heated criticism, writes that she would welcome an outside investigation of her office’s handling of the Smollett case and that the evidence against the actor turned out to be weaker than when prosecutors sought charges.
April 4, 2019: Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge 7 President Kevin Graham calls on Foxx to resign and a group of suburban police leaders says it has no confidence in her.
April 5, 2019: Retired Illinois Appellate Court Judge Sheila O’Brien files a petition seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Foxx’s handling of the case, the second such petition in two days.
April 11, 2019: Emanuel’s administration sues Smollett for the $130,106 cost of the police overtime.
April 23, 2019: Abimbola and Olabinjo Osundairo, the brothers who reportedly say Smollett paid them to stage an attack, bring a federal lawsuit that claims Smollett’s attorneys smeared them after prosecutors dropped criminal charges against the actor. The lawsuit refers to the March 28 comment about white makeup.
May 23, 2019: A Cook County judge unseals court records in Smollett’s criminal case — a win for news organizations that have sued for the files.
May 30, 2019: The Chicago Police Department posts hundreds of pages of records that offer a vivid portrait of what law enforcement saw and heard in its initial response.
May 31, 2019: Foxx’s office releases thousands of pages of records in the Smollett case. Among the revelations, federal authorities saw the case as “a giant pile of poop” and Foxx saw her own office’s explanation for her withdrawal from the case as “bull----.”
June 5, 2019: Chicago officials release audio of two 911 calls from a Smollett colleague reporting the alleged attack against the actor.
June 21, 2019: Cook County Judge Michael Toomin orders a special prosecutor to investigate the alleged hate crime and Smollett’s short-lived prosecution. Toomin says Foxx’s February recusal should have included a request for a special prosecutor to take over the case. He says handing it off to someone in her office amounted to naming her own special prosecutor. The actor’s attorneys call the ruling, which opens the door to new criminal charges, a “travesty of justice.”
June 24, 2019: The Chicago Police Department releases hundreds of videos and internal documents from its investigation into Smollett’s reported attack. The videos include police-body camera footage showing the actor in his apartment after the reported attack with the rope still around his neck.
Aug. 23, 2019: Toomin appoints former U.S. attorney Dan Webb as the special prosecutor.
Sept. 4, 2019: Smollett could never have foreseen that Chicago police would investigate his hate crime claims so thoroughly — and therefore he shouldn’t be stuck with the bill, according to a court filing for the actor that argues a judge should dismiss a lawsuit by the city seeking to recoup $130,000 in police overtime costs.
Nov. 20, 2019: A Smollett lawsuit accuses the city of Chicago and multiple police officers of malicious prosecution.
Jan. 7, 2020: Foxx’s office has retained Ruben Castillo, the former chief U.S. judge of the Northern District of Illinois, to help the office navigate the special prosecutor’s inquiry into the Smollett scandal, Crain’s Chicago Business reports.
Jan. 8, 2020: A Cook County judge has ordered Google to turn over Smollett’s emails, photos, location data and private messages for an entire year as part of the special prosecutor’s investigation into the reported attack, the Chicago Tribune reports.
Jan. 29, 2020: News outlets report that attorneys for Smollett have subpoenaed documents about the recent ouster of Eddie Johnson, the police superintendent, including any “untruthful or misleading” statements.
Feb. 11, 2020: Webb, the special prosecutor, unveils a new grand-jury indictment accusing Smollett of staging the attack. The indictment includes six counts of felony disorderly conduct.
Feb. 24, 2020: Smollett pleads not guilty to the new charges and files a motion asking a Cook County judge — based on double-jeopardy grounds — to throw out the charges.
March 6, 2020: The Illinois Supreme Court denies a Smollett request to throw out the new charges and remove the special prosecutor who brought them.
June 12, 2020: Cook County Judge James Linn, who will preside over Smollett’s criminal trial, tosses out the actor’s double jeopardy claim. Linn finds that the 2019 deal in which Smollett forfeited his $10,000 bond, with no admission of wrongdoing, in exchange for Foxx’s office dropping the original charges does not count as criminal punishment.
June 25, 2020: After claiming they would no longer cooperate with Smollett’s prosecution, the Osundairo brothers reverse course, saying they will now continue voluntarily working with authorities.
Aug. 7, 2020: Police investigating the Smollett case taped 37 seconds of a private conversation between a key witness and his lawyer last year, the Chicago Tribune reports. The tape has made it into the hands of Smollett’s defense team, which says it helps prove the actor’s innocence.
Aug. 17, 2020: Webb, the special prosecutor, reports that Foxx and her office abused their discretion in the Smollett case but the abuse fell short of criminal wrongdoing.
Sept. 9, 2020: An open letter from activists and entertainers including Angela Davis and Danny Glover expresses solidarity with Smollett and says the Chicago Police Department is “legendary for its history of racial terror and cover-up.”
Sept. 9, 2020: A Smollett interview raises doubts about the charges. He says there are two witnesses who “saw white men — saw exactly what I say that I saw.” He also takes aim at expected testimony by the Osundairo brothers, pointing to how long the police held them for questioning: “They were in there for 47 hours. They continued to say I had absolutely nothing to do with it. And then they changed the story at the last minute.”
July 30, 2021: Linn, the judge in Smollett’s criminal case, rules that former Cook County prosecutor Nenye Uche can represent Smollett but can’t question the Osundairo brothers, who will be key witnesses for the prosecution. Uche has discussed the case with the brothers in the past. Webb argued unsuccessfully that Uche therefore has a conflict of interest.
Aug. 26, 2021: Linn rules that attorneys for Smollett cannot call Foxx or her chief deputy to the witness stand. The defense sought to question them about their statements to the media during the actor’s 2019 disorderly conduct case. Linn also rules that attorneys at trial cannot mention the civil lawsuits filed by Smollett and the city of Chicago against each other. But Linn rules that Smollett’s defense team can discuss weapons found in the Osundairo brothers’ home during a police search after they were brought in for questioning about the reported attack against the actor.
Oct. 15, 2021: Linn denies a last-ditch request to dismiss the criminal case. Uche has argued Smollett’s rights were being violated since he already performed community service and gave up the $10,000 in bond money under a deal with Cook County prosecutors to drop the 2019 charges. But Linn notes that a judge found that first case to be essentially void because of the way Foxx handled her so-called recusal. Linn also denies a media outlet’s request to have cameras in the courtroom during the trial.
Nov. 29, 2021: Jury selection in Smollett’s criminal trial is scheduled to start in a Chicago courtroom.