Police in Chicago are saying that the investigation into the assault reported by Jussie Smollett has “shifted” due to information received from two brothers questioned in the case, and attorneys for the “Empire” actor slammed reports alleging he played a role in his own attack.
Chicago police had arrested, then released the two Nigerian brothers without charges late Friday and said they were no longer suspects in the attack.
“We can confirm that the information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the Empire case has, in fact, shifted the trajectory of the investigation,” Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in an emailed statement Saturday. “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Guglielmi did not elaborate on what he meant by a shift in the case.
Smollett’s attorneys later Saturday issued a statement saying the actor would continue to cooperate with police, but felt “victimized” by reports that he might have been involved in the attack.
“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," attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said in a statement. “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying."
Smollett, who is black and gay, says he was attacked while leaving a Subway restaurant in Chicago on Jan. 29. He said two men hurled racist and homophobic slurs at him before beating him, throwing a chemical on him, which may have been bleach, and leaving a noose around his neck. He said that as they attacked him, at least one of them said, “this is MAGA country.”
On Wednesday, Chicago police picked up the brothers at O’Hare International Airport as they returned from Nigeria. They described them as “suspects” in the assault, questioned them and searched their apartment. During the search of their home, police allegedly removed bleach, a black facemask, a red hat and an "Empire" script, according to CBS Chicago.
Gloria Schmidt, the brothers' attorney, told CBS News that she denied her clients’ involvement and noted that they worked with Smollett on the set of "Empire" and also know him from a local gym.
This week, two reports from ABC and CBS stations in Chicago, both citing unnamed police sources, have raised the possibility that Smollett staged the attack. A potential motive could be that Smollett was being written off "Empire," according to ABC7Chicago. However, earlier this week police said reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax are unconfirmed and that not only were they still investigating the alleged attack as a possible hate crime but that they considered Smollett a victim. The production company behind "Empire," 20th Century Fox, also denied claims that Smollett was being written off the show.
Late Friday evening police released the two men without charges and said they were no longer suspects. They said they had gleaned new information from their interrogation of them. Over the weekend, unnamed sources told ABC News and CNN that they believe Smollett allegedly paid the brothers to attack him.
One of the men is Smollett’s personal trainer who he hired to get him physically ready for a music video, the statement from Smollett’s attorneys said.
“It is impossible to believe that this person could have played a role in the crime against Jussie or would falsely claim Jussie’s complicity,” the statement from Smollett's attorneys said.
Smollett gave an emotional speech during a concert in West Hollywood, California, on Feb. 2 saying that he went ahead with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
Smollett also gave an interview to Robin Roberts of ABC News that aired Thursday, saying that he was “pissed” at people who did not believe he was attacked.
“I’ve heard that it was a date gone bad, which I also resent that narrative,” he said. “I’m not gonna go out and get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous. And it’s offensive.”
Police said they combed surveillance video in the heavily-monitored downtown Chicago area but were unable to find any footage of the attack and Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.
The Associated Press has contributed to this report.
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