There’s a stunning new twist in the Jussie Smollett case.
Just hours after the actor appeared in an emotional interview on Good Morning America and insisted he was telling the truth about being attacked last month, a Chicago television station alleged he may have “staged” the incident.
Shortly after GMA aired its interview with Smollett Thursday, Chicago police announced on Twitter that “detectives have identified the persons of interest in the area of the alleged attack of the Empire cast member.”
Hours later, ABC7 Chicago reported multiple sources told the station “police are investigating whether Smollett and the two men staged the attack allegedly because the actor was being written off of ‘Empire.'”
Smollett, who is African-American and openly gay, told police he was walking down the street in Chicago on the morning of Jan. 29, when two men started yelling racial and homophobic slurs. He said the attackers beat him, doused him with a chemical and wrapped a rope around his neck.
A source familiar with the investigation told ABC7 Chicago police are questioning the two persons of interest — one of whom has previously appeared on Empire.
The ABC7 report went on to say police raided the homes of the persons of interest Wednesday night, and took away evidence, including shoes and electronic devices.
The police department released a statement Thursday evening on Twitter saying it has no “evidence to support” the ABC7 report that Smollett’s claims might be a hoax.
“Media reports about the ‘Empire’ incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives,” tweeted CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. “Supt Eddie Johnson has contacted @ABC7Chicago to state on the record that we have no evidence to support their reporting and their supposed CPD sources are uninformed and inaccurate.”
Meanwhile another Chicago television station alleged Smollett “orchestrated” the attack, and offered additional details Thursday on the two persons of interest. CBS 2 Chicago said the men are brothers of Nigerian descent who appeared as extras on Empire. The mens’ attorney, Gloria Schmidt, told the station they both know Smollett.
“They do know Jussie,” Schmidt said in an on-camera news report. “They have worked with him on Empire. My preliminary investigations show that on set it’s very tight. They’re all very cordial with each other, so they’re baffled why they are people of interest.”
CBS 2 Chicago said police knocked down the door of the men’s home and took “electronics, shoes, receipts, bleach, a red hat and other household items.”
Empire debuted on Fox in 2015, and Smollett has been a main member of the cast since the series began.
Shortly after news of the alleged racist and homophobic attack occurred, Empire co-creators Lee Daniels and Danny Strong, and Fox all voiced support for Smollett.
Fox said in a statement Thursday evening that there’s no truth to news reports Smollett is being written off of Empire.
“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,” said the statement from
20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment.