On Jan. 29, Jussie Smollett told police he was physically attacked by two men in downtown Chicago while out getting food from a Subway restaurant at 2 a.m. The actor says the men used racial and homophobic slurs, wrapped a rope around his neck and poured an “unknown substance” on him. Police say Smollett, who is black and gay, told detectives the attackers also yelled he was in “MAGA country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan that some Trump critics have decried as racist and discriminatory.
On Jan. 30, Chicago police said they had reviewed hundreds of hours of surveillance camera footage, including of Smollett walking downtown, but none shows the attack. Police obtained and released images of two people they would like to question, calling them “persons of interest.”
Reports of an assault on Smollett drew outrage and support for him on social media from some politicians and celebrities.
On Jan. 31, Trump told reporters at the White House that he saw a story the night before about Smollett, saying: “It doesn’t get worse, as far as I’m concerned.”
Smollett’s family issued a statement calling the attack a racial and homophobic hate crime. Smollett’s family said he “has told the police everything” and “his story has never changed,” disputing assertions leveled on social media that he had been less than cooperative and changed his story.
On Feb. 1, Smollett issued a statement telling people he’s OK and thanking them for their support. He said he was working with authorities and has been “100 percent factual and consistent on every level.”
On Feb. 2, Smollett gave a concert in West Hollywood, California, opening with an emotional speech, saying he had to play the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
On Feb. 12, Chicago police said Smollett turned over some, but not all, of the phone records detectives requested as part of their investigation. Police said the heavily redacted files aren’t sufficient. Smollett said he redacted information to protect the privacy of contacts and people not relevant to the attack.
On Feb. 13, Chicago police picked up two men they identified as Nigerian brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport on their return from Nigeria after police learned at least one worked on “Empire.” Police questioned the brothers and searched the apartment where the men live.
On Feb. 14, Chicago police said local media reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed.
The producers of “Empire” dispute media reports that Smollett’s character, Jamal Lyon, was being written off the show.
On Feb. 15, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielimi said the two “persons of interest” are now considered suspects. He said the men—identified previously by police as two brothers from Nigeria—are in custody but have not been charged with a crime.
Chicago police released the two men without charges after arresting them on suspicion of assaulting Smollett and holding them for nearly 48 hours. A police spokesman said the two are no longer considered suspects and that investigators have new evidence to consider as a result of questioning them.
On Feb. 16, police said the investigation had “shifted” after detectives questioned the two brothers about the attack and released them without charges. Police said they’ve requested a follow-up interview with Smollett. Smollett’s lawyers said the actor feels “victimized” by reports that he played a role in the assault.
Smollett’s account of what happened is met with some skepticism on social media in the wake of the new developments.
On Feb. 17, Chicago police said they’re still seeking a follow-up interview with Smollett after receiving new information that “shifted” their investigation of a reported attack on the “Empire” actor. Guglielimi said police reached out to Smollett’s attorney, but said an interview has not been conducted.
Guglielimi declines to address reports that a grand jury may hear evidence in the case, saying: “We’re not confirming, denying or commenting on anything until we can talk to him and we can corroborate some information that we’ve gotten.”
On Feb. 19, Chicago police investigated a tip that on the night Smollett reported being attacked, he was in an elevator of his apartment building with the two Nigerian brothers. Police later dismissed the tip, saying it’s not credible based on video evidence.
Chicago’s top prosecutor, Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, recused herself from the investigation. Her office says the decision was made “out of an abundance of caution … to address potential questions of impartiality based upon familiarity with potential witnesses in the case.” No details were provided.