Courtroom records and interviews from neighbours and friends of the Empire actor show how his story began to unravel, correspondents for the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune write
The 44-year-old actor Jussie Smollett was scheduled to testify on Thursday in a closed session of a Chicago court, a case that has transfixed celebrities and fans from presidents to imitators of Smollett’s famous dance moves. The 48-year-old actor and Empire character Jamal Lyon was charged on Wednesday with filing a false police report, accused of staging an attack on himself.
As the story that is now being called a hoax unfolded in January, some of Smollett’s most important people began to speak out. With the case heating up, prosecutors began investigating the actor’s claims as a hoax after a weeklong investigation by Chicago police, according to federal court documents released on Thursday.
Here are key stories that helped illuminate Smollett’s story in recent months.
Jussie Smollett: Black youth no longer safe because of ‘toxic’ blackness Read more
A police department news conference last month took a dramatic turn after prosecutors played the dashcam video of Smollett and an actor he claims attacked him walking to his car. The Smollett family read a statement saying: “We want the world to know that Jussie is a kind and caring man. He is the most sensitive young man we know. We are horrified and saddened by recent events.”
Smollett testified at a closed session in front of a grand jury. Chicago police department Photograph: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Chicago police detectives said they recorded video of Smollett’s account to detectives, but struggled to pinpoint the route of the alleged attack. What does the camera footage show? Showing a thin man in black gloves walking back and forth from the position of Smollett as he was attacked. He then disappears, and someone is seen returning to Smollett’s spot. Authorities would have to sort through questions about the sequence of events.
Some people accused Smollett of lying, even though footage has emerged that showed the actor driving to and from the scene. Smollett’s attackers began knocking at his apartment door, telling him they were there to check on him. The two men are two black men with “diminutive builds”, according to the complaint filed in the indictment on Wednesday. Smollett’s lawyers said in a statement on Wednesday that Smollett was angry he was being treated as a suspect, even though he had been charged with filing a false police report.
Chicago police worked with the FBI to find possible security cameras that could have captured the attack, according to federal court documents released on Thursday. Smollett’s lawyers released a statement denying that Smollett was involved in any hoax and describing his attack as “a painful crime”. US attorney, Rod Rosenstein, told a briefing that a grand jury had met on 18 February to hear evidence, according to the Chicago Tribune.
Smollett was moved from his apartment on 18 January by police to a complex two miles north of his building. The apartments overlook Lake Michigan, with shops and restaurants along Michigan Avenue. The Empire was filming most of the show’s second season in Chicago from 18 January.
The footage captured in the hours and days after the attack, which Smollett described as blood-curdling, appears to contradict some aspects of his story, the Associated Press reported.
A number of neighbours said the actor was a friendly person who was “always smiling”. But there were criticisms too. Smollett’s neighbours raised concerns about how the attack happened so close to him and about why the actor, who was living alone, was on the streets. Tisha Jackson, who lives around the corner from Smollett’s building, said: “I thought it was so insensitive.”