Actor Jussie Smollett says he’s “angered and devastated” at suggestions the alleged attack against him was a hoax. Nathan Rousseau Smith has the story.
CHICAGO – Chicago police were pursuing “additional detective work” Sunday amid suspicion that an attack on actor/singer Jussie Smollett may have been faked.
Two brothers told investigators they were paid by the “Empire” actor to stage the attack, according to a person familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly. The person asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the investigation.
“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,” the Chicago Police Department said in a statement Saturday. “We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
On Sunday, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi tweeted, “While we are not in a position to confirm, deny or comment on the validity of what’s been unofficially released, there are some developments in this investigation and detectives have some follow-ups to complete which include speaking to the individual who reported the incident.”
Smollett’s attorneys issued a statement saying the actor would continue to cooperate with police but felt “victimized” by reports that he might have been involved in staging an attack.
“Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying,” the statement from attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson said.
Smollett, who is black and gay, said he was attacked while walking home through Chicago’s Streeterville neighborhood late last month. He told police masked men tied a noose around his neck, poured bleach on him and yelled racial slurs and “MAGA country!”
Police found records in the Chicago home of one of the men that showed they purchased rope from a hardware store that was used in the alleged attack, the source told USA TODAY.
Donald Trump Jr. targeted Smollett on Twitter after the revelations, saying the actor “tried to manufacture a hate crime to make Trump supporters look bad and most of the media not only uncritically accepted his lies as facts for weeks, but attacked those who questioned the validity of his false story.”
Social media reaction to the latest development in the case ranged from mockery to disbelief.
“What a disgrace to MLK, Rosa Parks, and other people who actually suffered racism,” “Survivor” alum Anna Khait tweeted.
“If this story turns out to be a hoax, orchestrated by Smollett to boost his career, he will have cynically betrayed supporters across the country and slandered a great city,” tweeted David Axelrod, director of the University of Chicago’s Institute of Politics and CNN commentator.
Police had questioned the two brothers, who are of Nigerian descent and have long lived in Chicago, last week after arresting them at O’Hare International Airport upon returning from international travel. They initially classified the brothers as suspects in the alleged attack Jan. 29.
Late Friday, the men were released without charges. Guglielmi cited “new evidence” as the reason for the men’s release.
One of the men is Smollett’s personal trainer, whom he hired to get him physically fit 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 said.
Chicago’s ABC affiliate reported last week that investigators believed Smollett staged the attack because he was being written off the show.
During an exclusive interview with Robin Roberts, ‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett gets emotional while talking about his reported attackers in Chicago.
Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produces the Chicago-based family drama, pushed back against the notion that Smollett was being written off the show.
“The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of ‘Empire’ is patently ridiculous. He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him,” the statement said.
Since launching the investigation, police have consistently described Smollett as a victim of an attack.
Asked by USA TODAY on Saturday whether investigators still believed Smollett was a victim of an attack, Guglielmi stopped short of categorizing how investigators view the actor.
“We have some new information that we would like to corroborate,” he said.
Smollett said in an interview Thursday with ABC’s “Good Morning America” that people who doubt him “don’t even want to see this is the truth.”
“It feels like if I had said it was a Muslim, or a Mexican, or someone black, I feel like the doubters would’ve supported me a lot more, and that says a lot about the place that we are in our country right now,” he said.
Contributing: John Bacon and Kim Willis, USA TODAY; The Associated Press
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