This Is How Chicago Detectives Cracked The Jussie Smollett Case
Police used a combination of surveillance footage, trips in a cab and Uber, and interviews with two men to charge the Empire actor with a felony.
Chicago police on Thursday gave a detailed account of how they believe Empire star Jussie Smollett orchestrated an attack against himself.
Smollett was arrested and charged with providing false information to police while reporting an aggravated battery, with authorities alleging the 36-year-old actor paid two men $3,500 to stage an attack against him — then gained national attention by portraying himself as a victim of a hate crime that didn't happen.
As the high-profile investigation ground on, police moved from approaching it as a potential hate crime to an alleged hoax.
During a press conference on Thursday, Edward Wodnicki, commander of the Area Central Detective Division of the Chicago police, provided a detailed timeline of how a team of detectives concluded that Smollett orchestrated the attack.
At 2 a.m. on Jan. 29, Smollett reported to police that he was the victim of a hate crime. Detectives later interviewed him at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, where he reported that two people yelled racial and anti-gay slurs, beat him, put a rope around his neck, threw a bleachlike substance on him, and then fled.
Smollett did not suffer any major injuries, apart from a few bruises and scratches on his face that police later said were "likely self-inflicted."
On Jan. 29, Chicago police started a "full-scale investigation" into the possible hate crime, saying they were taking the allegations of the racially charged assault and battery "very seriously."
On Jan. 30, police noticed two people on surveillance footage from a camera near the alleged attack and started looking for them.
The video did not capture the actual incident, but police on Thursday said Smollett was aware of the camera and likely wanted the staged attack to be captured in the footage. However, the camera was pointing in another direction.
Smollett was seen on surveillance video walking from his residence on East North Water Street to a Subway restaurant on McClurg Court. He then walked back to East North Water Street, where the alleged attack took place outside his residence.
At the time, police began searching the area for more video cameras and witnesses in a bid to identify the two people they wanted to question in the reported attack.
Detectives interviewed more than 100 people while canvassing the area, reviewing footage from approximately 35 Chicago police pod cameras and 20 private security cameras. This helped them track the movements of the two people.
Police first determined — through video evidence — that the two men fled on foot after the alleged attack on East North Water Street and ran toward the Chicago River.
Video footage showed that at 2:10 a.m., the two men then got into a cab at the Hyatt Regency hotel across the river. About 15 minutes later, video showed that the two men got out of the cab on the 3600 block of North Marshfield Avenue and walked northbound, a few blocks away from their Lakeview apartment.
After speaking to the cab driver and using surveillance footage, police tried to reconstruct their movements before the alleged attack.
They backtracked their movements and determined that the two men had taken an Uber a few blocks away from their apartment to go to the scene of the planned attack.
The brothers took the Uber to the 1400 block of North Wells, where they exited and flagged down a taxi, prosecutors said.
The taxi took them to within three blocks of the planned attack at approximately 1:22 a.m. The taxi's in-car video captured the brothers flagging it and riding in the back seat.
From that time to the time of the reported attack at 2:03 a.m., video footage showed the brothers walking around in an area bordered by Lake Shore Drive to the east, Columbus Drive to the west, East Illinois Street to the north, and the Chicago River to the south.
At 2 a.m., the brothers waited for Smollett at the intersection of New Street and North Water Street, but authorities said the actor did not arrive at the designated time.
Surveillance footage captured the two brothers waiting on a bench near the area of the planned attack until Smollett arrived four minutes later. The three men then staged the attack, which lasted 45 seconds, prosecutors said.
Police said Uber records were the lead in helping investigators identify the two men as brothers Abimbola "Abel" and Olabinjo "Ola" Osundairo.
Police then determined that the two men had gone to Chicago O'Hare International Airport, where they took a flight to Nigeria. They purchased round-trip tickets and were set to return to Chicago on Feb. 13.
While they waited for them, police executed over 50 search warrants and subpoenas, including for phone and social media records. Using phone records, authorities determined that Smollett had allegedly spoken to the brothers at least an hour before and then after the incident, as well as while they were in Nigeria.
On Feb. 13, the two men were taken into custody at O'Hare. They asked for an attorney and were brought to the Area Central Detective Headquarters to be processed.
After speaking to her two clients, their attorney, Gloria Schmidt, told detectives that "something smelled fishy," Wodnicki said.
Schmidt told police that she did not think her clients were the offenders, but rather were the victims in the case. She then allowed detectives to interview them on video.
"It was at that time that this investigation started to spin in a completely new direction," Wodnicki said Thursday.
Police said they used the information provided by the two men to substantiate the timeline and details of the incident.
On Feb. 15 — after the two men had been in custody for approximately 47 hours —police released them without any charges. The two men were also no longer being treated as suspects or persons of interest, but instead as "witnesses," police said.
Detectives later obtained a check for $3,500 that Smollett had given the brothers for allegedly staging the attack. He was also going to pay them $500 after they returned from Nigeria, police said.
On Feb. 18, police scheduled an appointment with a Cook County grand jury to look into the two witnesses' statements. Wodnicki said that at the time, Smollett's attorneys told police they wanted to provide evidence to postpone the grand jury. However, Wodnicki said the attorneys "gave us no new information."
The two witnesses then testified to the grand jury.
On Wednesday, police officially classified Smollett as a suspect for filing a false police report while detectives were presenting evidence to the grand jury.
Chicago detectives met with Smollett's attorneys and arranged for him to turn himself in once the Cook County State's Attorney's Office approved of the felony charge.
On Thursday, Smollett turned himself in at 5 a.m.