The story of “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett’s alleged attack contains more twists than an episode of the television drama. Once considered by Chicago police to be the victim of a racist and homophobic hate crime, Smollett now faces a felony charge for allegedly filing a false police report about the incident. Authorities say Smollett, who is black and openly gay, staged the attack because he wanted a raise. His attorneys have maintained that he didn’t play a role in the attack.
A lot has happened in just three weeks. Here’s a look back at how it all unfolded.
Jan. 29: Smollett, 36, told Chicago police he had been walking in the Streeterville neighborhood at 2 a.m. when two people yelling racial and homophobic slurs approached him. He said they hit him, poured an unknown chemical substance on him and wrapped a rope around his neck. At some point, he said, the attackers referred to “MAGA country,” as in President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said officers first made contact with Smollett about 2:40 a.m.
Fox, the network that airs “Empire,” released a statement saying it was “deeply saddened and outraged” by the alleged attack. Lee Daniels, who co-created “Empire” with Danny Strong, posted a video to Instagram in which he urged viewers to “love each other regardless of what sexual orientation we are. Because it shows we are united on a united front.”
Jan. 30: Celebrities, such as “Empire” co-stars Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, and advocacy organizations, including GLAAD, continued to express their support.
Police asked the public for help in locating two “people of interest” caught on surveillance footage right before the alleged attack. They released images depicting two figures facing away from the camera and walking along a snowy street between 1:30 and 1:45 a.m. on Jan. 29.
Police also confirmed that the FBI was investigating a threatening letter sent on Jan. 22 to Smollett at the “Empire” set in Chicago.
Jan. 31: Smollett’s family released a statement remarking upon how prevalent targeted hate crimes are across the country. The statement denied rumors circulating on social media that placed doubt on the allegations: Smollett “told the police everything from the very beginning,” it said, and his story had “never changed.”
In response to a White House reporter’s question, Trump called reports of the alleged attack “horrible” and said that “it doesn’t get any worse.”
Feb. 1: Smollett spoke out for the first time since the alleged attack via a statement to Essence: “Let me start by saying that I’m okay. My body is strong but my soul is stronger.” Like his family, he wrote that his account of the incident had stayed “factual and consistent on every level.” He signed the statement, “With Love, respect & honor.”
Feb. 2: During a concert in West Hollywood, Smollett’s first public appearance since the alleged attack, he thanked audience members for their support. He also said he had fought back against his attackers and reportedly joked that he was “the gay Tupac.”
Feb. 11: Police said the “limited and redacted” phone records they received from Smollett had proved insufficient for a criminal investigation.
Feb. 12: Smollett’s representatives clarified that he had redacted some information from his phone records before turning them over to police to protect the privacy of people unrelated to the alleged attack. “Jussie is the victim here,” his representatives wrote in a statement, adding that Smollett had provided records “from within an hour of the attack.”
Feb. 13: Two men were quietly taken into police custody after landing at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport from Nigeria.
Feb. 14: Smollett detailed his alleged attack in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts on “Good Morning America.” He said he was “pissed off” about the incident, and that he was “forever changed” because he would “never be the man that this did not happen to.”
Hours before local media published reports questioning the veracity of Smollett’s allegations, he told Roberts that he was angry about people not believing him.
Later that morning, police announced that they had identified the “persons of interest in the area of the alleged attack,” but noted that they were not suspects.
Feb. 15: Chicago police publicly announced that the two “persons of interest” had been classified as “possible suspects” and were being questioned. The men were later released without charges. Guglielmi confirmed that the men were brothers and of Nigerian descent, and that at least one of them had previously worked on “Empire.”
Feb. 16: Guglielmi issued a statement saying information gleaned from the Feb. 15 interviews had “shifted the trajectory of the investigation” and police wanted to speak with Smollett again.
Smollett’s attorneys, Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson, responded by saying the actor had been “further victimized” by claims that he knew the attackers and “played a role in his own attack.” They said one of the men who spoke to police was a personal trainer Smollett had hired to help him get ready for a music video.
Feb. 20: Police named Smollett as a suspect in the criminal investigation and hours later confirmed that the Cook County state’s attorney’s office had charged him with disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report regarding the incident. The felony charge means that Smollett could face up to three years in prison.
Smollett’s attorneys wrote that he, like any other citizen, “enjoys the presumption of innocence” and that they intended to “mount an aggressive defense.”
Feb. 21: Smollett was arrested Thursday morning. At a subsequent media briefing, police said he concocted the story of a hate crime because he was “dissatisfied with his salary” for his work on “Empire,” and that he paid the two men $3,500 to stage the attack after the threatening letter — which police suspect Smollett sent to himself at the Cinespace Chicago Film Studios — failed to attract attention.
Trump tagged Smollett in a tweet that read, “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”
Smollett appeared at a court hearing in the afternoon, during which his bond was set at $100,000, and he was ordered to surrender his passport. His next court hearing has been set for March 14.
Fox Entertainment and Twentieth Century Fox, which had previously denied reports that Smollett’s role had been reduced or cut from “Empire,” said in a statement that they were “evaluating the situation” and “considering our options.”