Empire Star, Jussie Smollet Investigation: All You Need To Know
Here’s how Smollett went from “the victim” to “the individual who reported the incident.”
Fox Studios’ Chicago Offices Receive A Threatening Letter
On January 22, a letter addressed to Smollett arrived at Fox’s Cinespace Studios, where the show is filmed. Chicago Police Department Spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi confirmed the letter’s existence on February 1 and told CNN the mail had prompted an intervention by a HAZMAT team, as it contained a potentially harmful white powder. The suspicious substance was ultimately identified as aspirin. At the time, Guglielmi did not offer any additional details.
Reports later revealed the letter also contained racist and homophobic language threatening Smollett’s life.
Smollett Files A Police Report
On January 29, Jussie Smollett received medical attention after being attacked in downtown Chicago. He filed a police report detailing the incident and qualified the assailants as MAGA supporters. Two “unknown offenders approached him and gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him,” the Chicago Police Department said. “The offenders began to batter the victim with their hands about the face and poured an unknown chemical substance on the victim.” A rope was also tied around Smollett’s neck, like a noose.
Police Identify Two Suspects
Finding visual evidence of the incident proved to be difficult for investigators due to “gaps” in surveillance footage. On January 30, Anthony Guglielmi tweeted an update: “ChicagoPolice detectives located a surveillance camera that shows potential persons of interest wanted for questioning in reference to the assault & battery of Empire actor.” An image of showing two figures walking on a sidewalk was released to the public.
Photos of people of interest who were in area of the alleged assault & battery of Empire cast member. While video does not capture an encounter, detectives are taking this development seriously & wish to question individuals as more cameras are being reviewed pic.twitter.com/xJDDygtocr
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) January 31, 2019
Smollett & His Family Break Their Silence
Jussie’s siblings issued a statement supporting their brother on January 31. “We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime,” they said. “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.”
The Empire star shared his first statement the following day. “Let me start by saying that I’m OK,” he said. “My body is strong but my soul is stronger. More importantly, I want to say thank you. 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,” Smollett added. “Despite my frustrations and deep concern with certain inaccuracies and misrepresentations that have been spread, I still believe that justice will be served.”
Smollett Makes His First Onstage Appearance
Only days after the incident, the entertainer decided to follow through on a previously-scheduled gig. On February 2, he performed at the Troubadour in Los Angeles where he addressed the crowd. He affirmed his strength and grit, calling himself “the gay Tupac.”
Smollett Turns In His Phone Records To Legal Authorities
A PDF file of redacted phone calls was given to the police rather than “a download of the phone or a digital record.” On February 12, a Smollett rep said this version was offered “to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack,” adding, “Jussie has voluntarily provided his phone records from within an hour of the attack and given multiple statements to police. Chicago PD has repeatedly informed us that they find Jussie’s account of what happened that night consistent and credible.”
Smollett Gives His First Televised Interview
On February 15, Jussie Smollett’s interview with Good Morning America hit the web. The entertainer became emotional as he recalled the events surrounding his alleged assault.
“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.”
Police Detain Two Men As Suspects
Two Nigerian brothers, Ola and Abel Osundairo, were taking in for questioning. Chicago PD’s Guglielmi confirmed their identification on February 14. “Detectives have probable cause that they may have been involved in an alleged crime and we are working to corroborate the allegations and investigative timeline as our investigation continues.”
On February 15, their release without charges was announced. “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 and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” Guglielmi tweeted.
The two former suspects issued a statement on the same day. Their lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, also commented. “When they first learned about what happened to him they were horrified. This is someone they know. This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that,” Schmidt said.
Former Suspects Continue To Cooperate With Police
On February 17, detectives confirmed their investigation’s focus had “shifted” following the interrogations of the Osundairo brothers. At this point, the possibility of Smollett’s own involvement in his attack became a consideration. The Osundairos are said to have admitted to attacking Smollett at his request. He is reportedly accused of hiring them after the threatening letter failed to gain the public’s attention. Apparently, the trio rehearsed the attack days before the incident.
A CPD spokesman said, “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.”
A statement issued by Smollett’s team dismissed the reported theory. “One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video,” the statement said. “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.”
Civil Rights Activist Calls For Smollet’s Prosecution
Najee Ali called a press conference on February 17 to condemn Jussie Smollett’s alleged dishonesty. “We believe Jussie Smollett Lied about being the victim of a hate crime and being assaulted,” he declared, “And for us, it’s a slap in the face.” The social and political activist said the actor should be held accountable in the court of law for inciting hatred with false claims, adding that the hate crime story could have caused a race war given its high-profile nature.
Smollett Refuses Follow-up Interview With Police
After acquiring the new evidence from the former suspects, the Chicago PD requested a follow-up interview with Jussie Smollet in order to cross-check his story with the Osundairo brothers’ testimonies. On February 18, Smollett’s
“There are no plans for Jussie Smollett to meet with Chicago police today,” his attorneys said. “Any news reports suggesting otherwise are inaccurate. Smollett’s attorneys will keep an active dialogue going with Chicago police on his behalf.”