The alleged “homophobic” and “racist” attack on Jussie Smollett, which reportedly took place in the early hours of January 29, has taken more twists and turns than an hour of the locally-filmed hit Fox series Empire.
One could almost be led to believe a group of writers in a writer’s room was responsible for a plot that grows more and more mysterious by the day. Heck, by the hour.
But is the actual showrunner here Smollett himself?
That is a question that Chicago PD as well as Smollett’s most steadfast supporters (which included the Reel 360 team) are being forced to ask themselves this Presidents Day.
On Sunday, Anthony Guglielmi, the chief spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, reported the latest official developments in a Twitter post:
Case Update: 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. pic.twitter.com/Hswn1Qjgcy
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 16, 2019
These tweets came after police arrested Nigerian brothers, named Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, and then released them. The two brothers reportedly have appeared on Empire as extras and possibly knew Smollett.
Several news outlets, including CNN, The Wrap, the New York Daily News and the Chicago Tribune, reported that unnamed law enforcement sources said the brothers had told investigators they were paid to take part in a hoax.
Smollett and his team quickly issued a statement rejecting that notion or the idea that Smollett had involvement in his own attack.
So, what gives? Reel 360 has culled together a timeline as to how we got here:
Jan. 29: First reported by TMZ, the actor was on his way home from a sandwich shop (reportedly Subway) at 2 AM in the Streeterville section of Chicago and was allegedly assaulted by two men wearing ski masks, yelling racial and homophobic slurs, while tying a noose around his neck and dousing him with a chemical substance which was at first believed to be bleach.
After the attack, Smollett is said to have returned to his apartment, and his manager called police from there about 40 minutes later. When officers arrived, the actor had cuts and scrapes on his face and the rope around his neck that he claimed had been put there by his assailant.
According to initial reports, those close to Smollett also claimed his attackers yelled, “This is MAGA country.” This was later confirmed by Smollett.
Chicago Police state that they are treating this as a “hate crime.” However, after combing through hours of surveillance footage, detectives say they cannot find any visual evidence of the attack.
Jan. 30: As word of the attack spread, Fox executives, Empire producer Lee Daniels, and Smollett’s TV family offer support. Taraji P. Henson, who plays Lyons matriarch Cookie, posted on Twitter and Instagram her reaction, “I wish what happened to my baby was just one big bad joke but it wasn’t and we all feel his pain right now. @jussiesmollett is pure love to the bone AND THAT IS WHY SO MANY ARE FEELING…
Terrence Howard, who plays Lucious, told Good Morning America that his TV son is angry after the attack. “I heard he’s getting better. You know, he’s angry,” Howard said. “But I know Jussie. Jussie’s anger will dissipate and he will forgive these people for what they did. But he won’t, and we cannot, forget their actions. They have to be forgiven because it was done out of ignorance.”
Detectives announce progress in the case: a surveillance image showing “potential persons of interest wanted for questioning” in connection to the case. The grainy images are of two men with their backs to the camera.
The F.B.I. also announces that it is investigating a mysterious, threatening letter to Smollett received by the Empire production offices at Cinespace Studios on Jan. 22.
Jan. 31: News of Smollett’s attack has captured the country’s attention, even President Donald Trump, who tells reporters in the Oval Office, “I can tell you that it’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse.”
The openly gay actor’s family also releases a statement, “Jussie was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack. 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.”
Feb. 1: Smollett releases his first public statement through his publicist. “Let me start by saying that I’m O.K. 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.”
Acknowledging some skepticism about his story on social media as hashtags #JussieSmollettHoax and #JussieHoax have popped up, Smollett adds, “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.”
Feb. 2: Only four days after the attack, the actor/singer appeared in concert on stage at Los Angeles famed Troubadour on Saturday.
“I fought the f*ck back,” Smollett told the crowd, adding, “I’m not fully healed yet but I’m going to and I’m going to stand strong with y’all. I had to be here tonight, y’all. I can’t let the motherf—ers win.”
Feb. 11: Talk around Smollett’s phone records become a part of the attack conversation. The police asked Smollett for access to his phone because he had been in conversation with his manager when the incident occurred. After going back and forth, Smollett turns over heavily redacted phone records. The department states that the redacted records, “do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation.”
Feb. 13: Two brothers of Nigerian descent, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, are detained by authorities after landing in Chicago on a flight from Nigeria. Police raid their home and, according to CBS Chicago, remove items including an Empire script and two hats.
Feb. 14: A visibly angry and frustrated Smollett gives his first interview about the incident to Good Morning America, where he states he is telling the truth.
Fighting back tears, the actor says to ABC’s Robin Roberts, “It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me much more.” He adds, “At first, it was a thing of, like, ‘Listen, if I tell the truth then that’s it, ’cause it’s the truth.’ Then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh, how can you doubt that? Like, how do you — how do you not believe that? It’s the truth.’ Then it became a thing of like, ‘Oh. It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth; you don’t even want to see the truth.’”
A photo is also released showing a rope burn on Smollett’s neck and a cut and bruise on his cheek.
ABC 7 and CBS 2 release reports that detectives are beginning to look at the possibility that this is a hoax. Chicago PD vehemently disputes via Twitter.
Feb. 15: The detained brothers are first identified as potential suspects by police, but that night are released without charges. Chicago PD claims they are no longer suspects, but won’t say why.
They release their own statement to WBBM – TV, “We are not racist. We are not homophobic, and we are not anti-Trump. We were born and raised in Chicago and are American citizens.”
Feb. 17: CBS News, ABC News, The New York Times and Associated Press report that, according to a source close to the investigation, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo claim they were paid them to participate in the alleged attack and that they purchased the rope found around Smollett’s neck at a nearby hardware store. The source also added that police have evidence to corroborate the sale.
The “evidence” actually has not been verified according to ABC.
Now: In a statement to multiple outlets, Smollett’s attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor Henderson maintain he was the victim of a crime.
“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,” the statement read. “He has now 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 and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.”
CBS 2 Chicago Investigator Brad Edwards reports that according to an inside source, Smollett staged the attack because, “the letter didn’t get enough attention.” Other sources corroborated that information.
There had also been chatter earlier that Smollett was possibly being written off of Empire, also giving him cause. Fox, however, denied this.
The report goes onto say that the brothers allegedly bought the rope used in the incident at the Crafty Beaver Hardware Store in the Ravenswood neighborhood the weekend of Jan. 25. One of the brothers allegedly held the rope and poured bleach while the other wore a plain red hat and yelled slurs at Smollett.
The sources add the red hat was bought at an Uptown beauty supply store and that the attack was supposed to happen before Jan. 29. The brothers told detectives the three men rehearsed the attack days prior to it happening. Smollett allegedly paid the brothers $3,500.
A grand jury is scheduled to convene later this week in order to determine if Smollett filed a false police report. Stay tuned…