Editor’s Note: On Wednesday evening, Jussie Smollett was charged with felony disorderly conduct for allegedly filing a false police report. The announcement came shortly after Chicago police said he was now considered a “suspect” in their criminal investigation.
Jussie Smollett should know that as many as a dozen Chicago detectives have been working his case when they might otherwise have been working murders such as last summer's killing of 21-year-old Oceanea Jones.
That homicide remains unsolved. The murdered woman's mother regularly calls the lone detective who is presently handling the case.
“I called last week,” the mother, Kenyatta Jones, told The Daily Beast on Tuesday. “Same thing. They still don't have anybody in custody.”
Back on the night of July 30, four young men approached Oceanea as she walked with her boyfriend.They may have mistakenly decided the boyfriend was a member of a rival gang. Jones ran and was shot in the back as she cried out a single word.
Over the months since then, the mother has been making fortnightly trips by city bus to her daughter's grave at Oak Wood Cemetery. There, she repeats a promise.
“I tell her I’m going to get justice for her,” Kenyatta Jones says. “I tell her, ‘Mamma ain’t going to stop working this case.’”
The mother described what appears to be the manpower devoted to solving the killing.
And she figures that the detective must already be overburdened with other cases.
“I think it's too much to do,” the mother said. “Every time there’s a murder, they’re out at the scene.”
She cannot help but take particular note of news reports regarding the resources the Chicago PD has been dedicating to the Smollett investigation.
“There are so many unsolved murders in Chicago,” she said.
But she understands this is how a police department is liable to respond when a celebrity claims to have been a victim of a racist and homophobic attack.
“It’s what everybody is talking about,” she said.
A hate letter laced with white powder that proved to be ground-up Tylenol did not generate much attention. But the assault that Smollett says followed it sure did.
And the detectives were faced with a huge amount of work. They had to canvass the area for witnesses. They had to locate every possible surveillance camera in the area and view the footage. They then had to track down two figures captured on video and identify them as brothers, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo.
The men proved to have departed for their native Nigeria, and the detectives had to be at the airport to detain them when they returned. The detectives then had to question the two until they were satisfied the men had not committed an actual assault.
On top of that, the detectives had to obtain and execute search warrants. They also set to work tracing the rope Smollett said had been placed around his neck. They succeeded in tracing it to an Ace Hardware store.
Of course, the detectives had to brief their supervisors and prepare reports, documenting each step they made. That included chasing down the many tips invariably prompted by a high-profile case.
On Tuesday, a tip came in that Smollett had been seen in his apartment building elevator with the Osundairo brothers. Detectives had to go out and view even more video before they concluded that the tipster was mistaken.
Other detectives were busy nailing down a case made considerably more difficult and detective-intensive as it looked ever less like what it was initially reported to be.
“Lot of little tedious things,” a law enforcement official told The Daily Beast.
The official added, “You kind of have to take everything at face value with a hate crime. A particularly hateful hate crime at that.”
Also on Monday came a report that Smollett had hired a third lawyer, Mark Garagos. The police will likely wait a few more days for Smollett and his legal team to decide whether to come in voluntarily and offer an explanation of the discrepancies between his initial account and what the detectives have since determined.
Even if the police decide Smollett made a false report, he is likely to be charged with a relatively minor offense. The only serious trouble may come if the FBI and the U.S. Postal Inspectors decide he sent the hate letter, which might constitute a terroristic hoax.
But from the police point of view, there is no pressing need to rush out and arrest him.
“It's not like he killed somebody,” the law enforcement official said.
If Smollett did file a false report, however, what he also did was cause as many as a dozen detectives to be diverted from seeking out people who actually killed somebody. This at a time when the Chicago police report they are making real progress in reducing the violence that earned the city the nickname Chiraq.
Meanwhile, Kenyatta Jones reports that she informed the detective on her daughter’s case that she has decided she cannot just sit and wait for answers.
“I told [the detective] I’ve been doing my own little investigating myself,” the mother said.
She added, “I’m doing OK. I’m getting a couple of names.”
She hopes to determine exactly why those four young men went after Oceanea and her boyfriend.
“Nobody I know why,” the mother said.
She is determined not to stop until she has fulfilled the promise of justice that she repeated when making her latest fortnightly visit to her daughter's grave.
That was on Thursday. A winter storm had passed through, and she cleared the snow from the headstone. She left some of it by the grave itself.
“I kept a little snow around her,” the mother said. “She liked snow. She liked to make snowballs.”