Empire Star Jussie Smollett Has Been Cleared: Everything We Know About His Alleged Hate Crime
The Empire actor always vehemently denied allegations that he orchestrated the attack on himself
Two months after Jussie Smollett reported that he was the victim of an apparent hate crime in Chicago and one month after he was indicted on 16 counts of disorderly conduct for making false reports, all charges against him have been dropped.
“After reviewing all the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s colunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” reads a statement from the Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office obtained by PEOPLE on Tuesday.
It’s a stunning turn in the investigation into whether Smollett, who is black and gay, orchestrated the attack on himself.
Here’s a timeline of everything we know about the case.
The Chicago Police Department confirmed in a statement that an Empire actor was involved in a “racially-charged assault and battery” at around 2 a.m. on the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in downtown Chicago.
According to the initial police statement, a “36-year-old man was walking … when two unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him. The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim. At some point during the incident, one of the offenders wrapped a rope around the victim’s neck. The offenders fled the scene.”
Smollett, who was in “good condition,” was treated at Northwestern Hospital, according to police.
In a statement, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment said “the entire studio, network and production stands united in the face or any despicable act of violence and hatred — and especially against one of our own.”
The Fox show’s creator, Lee Daniels, also spoke out about the incident, calling the actor his “son” and saying, “It’s just another f—ing day in America.”
The apparent hate crime came a week after Fox Studios’ Chicago offices allegedly received a threatening homophobic letter addressed to Smollett. In photos of the alleged letter, which is reportedly being investigated by the FBI, the words “you will die black f–” are spelled out in magazine letter cut-outs.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Chicago Police confirmed that Smollett remembered his attackers calling out President Donald Trump’s slogan, “MAGA,” an acronym for “Make America Great Again.”
“In the initial reports there was no mention of MAGA,” the statement read. “When detectives [followed] up with him later in the day, he recalled the offenders making those comments and detectives completed a supplemental report.”
Police added that “detectives are currently working to gather video, identify potential witnesses and establish an investigative timeline” and that Smollett was “fully cooperating with investigators.”
Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi revealed that investigators had acquired footage that could lead to the arrests of the Empire actor’s assailants. The police also released two photos of the persons of interest; however, the images did not show the individuals’ faces.
Smollett’s family released a statement about the incident, standing by the actor.
“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,” they said. “Our family thanks everyone for their prayers and the huge amount of love he has received. We are thankful to our village for your immense support during this trying time. We are so grateful that God saw him through this cowardly attack alive. Jussie is a warrior whose light cannot be dimmed.”
Smollett released his first public statement since the incident.
“Let me start by saying that I’m OK. My body is strong but my soul is stronger. More importantly, I want to say thank you,” he told Essence. “The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”
“I am working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level. Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served,” he continued. “As my family stated, these types of cowardly attacks are happening to my sisters, brothers and non-gender conforming siblings daily. I am not and should not be looked upon as an isolated incident. We will talk soon and I will address all details of this horrific incident, but I need a moment to process. Most importantly, during times of trauma, grief and pain, there is still a responsibility to lead with love. It’s all I know. And that can’t be kicked out of me. With love, respect & honor … Jussie.”
Smollett made his first public appearance since the attack, taking the stage at the Troubadour in Los Angeles.
“There are so many words on my heart that I want to say,” he began. “The most important that I can say, to keep it simple, thank you so much. I’m okay… I’m not fully healed yet, but I’m going to be. I’m going to stand strong with y’all.”
“I had to be here tonight,” he continued. “I couldn’t let those motherf—ers win. So I will always stand for love, I will never stand for anything other than that. Regardless of what anyone else says, I will only stand for love. I hope that you all stand with me.”
Clarifying reports about the attack, Smollett said “there has been a lot of stuff that has been said about me that is absolutely not true.”
“There are just a couple of points that I wanted to make really quick… I was bruised, but my ribs were not cracked,” he said. “I went to the doctor immediately — I was not hospitalized. Both my doctors in L.A. and Chicago cleared me to perform but said to take it easy, obviously. And, above all, I fought the f— back.”
Smollett, who has since returned to work on the Fox show, gave his first in-depth, televised interview about the incident to Good Morning America. After detailing what occurred and hitting back at critics who had questioned the accuracy of his account, Smollett got emotional, confessing his fears that his assailants wouldn’t be found.
“I want that [surveillance] video found so badly for four reasons,” he said. “Number one, I want them to find the people that did it. Number two, I want them to stop being able to say ‘alleged attack.’ Number three, I want them to see that I fought back. And I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought back. It does not take anything away from people who are not able to do that, but I fought back. They ran off, I didn’t.”
“Learn to fight. Learn to be a fighter,” he continued, addressing young gay men. “I am not advocating violence at all, so let’s be clear about that. If you’re going to die, fight until you do. If you don’t fight, you have no chance. I have fought for love. I’m an advocate. I respect too much the people — who I am now, one of those people — who have been attacked in any way.”
RELATED VIDEO: Jussie Smollett Breaks Down Over Fears His Apparent Hate Crime Attackers Will Never Be Found
After being asked if he’d be able to heal if his attackers were never found, Smollett broke down.
“I don’t know. Let’s just hope that they are, you know what I’m saying? Let’s not go there yet,” he said, crying.
“I was talking to a friend and I said, ‘I just want them to find them.’ And she said, ‘Sweetie, they’re not going to find them,’ ” he said. “That just made me so angry. So I’m just going to be left here like this? I’m just going to be left here? They get to go free, go about their life, and possibly attack someone else. And I’m here left with the aftermath? That’s not cool to me. That’s not okay.”
“I understand how difficult it will be to find them but we’ve got to,” he insisted. “I still want to believe, with everything that happened, that there’s something called justice.”
In response to reports by Chicago-based news outlets that Smollett staged his attack in a bid to keep his job, Fox denied that the actor’s character was being written off the show.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” the network said in a statement. “He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.”
At the time, Chicago PD shot down the reports, too.
“Media reports [about] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives,” police said in a statement obtained by The Advocate. “Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
“Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging,” Chicago PD spokesman Guglielmi announced, adding that detectives “have additional investigative work to complete.”
Reports emerged that the brothers claimed the Empire star paid them to stage the incident.
According to CBS Evening News, a police source said the brothers said Smollett paid them to participate in the incident and purchase the rope that was found around his neck.
CNN also reported that two Chicago police sources said investigators believe Smollett paid the men in exchange for carrying out the attack, and that the men were fully cooperating with authorities.
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Smollett denied the allegations in a statement released by his attorneys: “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. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack,” Smollett’s lawyers said. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement continued. “It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity.”
“Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate,” Smollett’s attorneys added. “At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to ‘unnamed’ sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.”
Chicago PD refused to comment on the speculation that the attack was a hoax.
“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,” Guglielmi said in a statement released Sunday afternoon via Twitter.
The spokesman went on to write that “detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident.”
In a statement obtained by PEOPLE on Monday, Smollett’s rep denied that the actor would be meeting with authorities and declined to comment further.
“There are no plans for Jussie Smollett to meet with Chicago police today,” said the rep. “Any news reports suggesting otherwise are inaccurate. Smollett’s attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf. We have no further comment today.”
Smollett turned himself into police and, hours later, appeared in bond court. His family sat in the courtroom as text messages between the Osundairo brothers detailing how the attack was allegedly orchestrated were read aloud.
“Smollett texted Abel stating, ‘Might need your help on the low. You around to meet up and talk face to face?’ ” according to the bond proffer from prosecutors obtained by multiple news outlets. “Smollett then stated that he wanted to stage an attack where Abel would appear to batter him. Smollett also suggested that Ola assist him with the attack.”
According to prosecutors, once the brothers told Smollett they “could trust” him, the actor allegedly stated he “wanted them to appear to attack him, to “catch his attention by calling him an ‘Empire F—– Empire N—-,’ and “not hurt him too badly and give him a chance to appear to fight back.”
In addition, Smollett allegedly texted that he “wanted Ola to place a rope around his neck, pour gasoline on him and yell ‘This is MAGA country,’ ” also allegedly instructing the men to purchase red baseball caps which resemble the ones that say President Donald Trump‘s “Make America Great Again” slogan.
Judge John F. Lyke Jr. set Smollett’s bond at $100,000, which the actor posted. Smollett was released and asked to surrender his passport. His next hearing was scheduled for March 14.
In a scathing statement, Smollett’s attorneys argued that Smollett’s “presumption of innocence … was trampled upon” and that he “is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”
Hours later, Smollett returned to the Chicago set of Empire.
Empire‘s executive producers announced that the actor’s character Jamal Lyon would be removed from the final two episodes of season 5.
“The events of the past few weeks have been incredibly emotional for all of us,” said Lee Daniels, Danny Strong, Brett Mahoney, Brian Grazer, Sanaa Hamri, Francie Calfo and Dennis Hammer. “Jussie has been an important member of our EMPIRE family for the past five years and we care about him deeply. While these allegations are very disturbing, we are placing our trust in the legal system as the process plays out. We are also aware of the effects of this process on the cast and crew members who work on our show and to avoid further disruption on set, we have decided to remove the role of ‘Jamal’ from the final two episodes of the season.”
Abimbola “Abel” and Olabinjo “Ola” Osundairo’s attorney released a statement to CBS Chicago, saying the brothers regretted their involvement in the scandal and apologizing to the victims of real hate crimes.
“My 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,” the statement read.
Although he was not required to attend a hearing regarding whether cameras would be allowed to film his trial, Smollett appeared in court alongside his legal team. The actor chose to attend“to show confidence in his innocence,” his representative, Anne Kavanagh, told PEOPLE, adding, “He will do everything he needs to do. He will go the extra mile to cooperate with the process.”
In a Chicago courtroom, Smollett pleaded not guilty to the allegation that he lied to police and staged his own attack.
In a shocking move, Smollett was cleared of all charges.
“Today, all criminal charges against Jussie Smollett were dropped and his record has been wiped clean of the filing of this tragic complaint against him,” attorneys Tina Glandian and Patricia Brown Holmes said in a statement. “Jussie was attacked by two people he was unable to identify on January 29th. He was a victim who was vilified and made to appear as a perpetrator as a result of false and inappropriate remarks made to the public causing an inappropriate rush to judgment.”
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office confirmed the charges against Smollett had been dropped.
“After reviewing all the facts and circumstances of the case, including Mr. Smollett’s colunteer service in the community and agreement to forfeit his bond to the City of Chicago, we believe this outcome is a just disposition and appropriate resolution to this case,” reads a statement obtained by PEOPLE.
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment also released a statement: “Jussie Smollett has always maintained his innocence and we are gratified that all charges against him have been dismissed.”