Chicago police no longer consider Jussie Smollett a victim. In fact, investigators want to sit down with him for a follow-up interview after new evidence emerged suggesting the Empire actor’s attack was orchestrated.
The case took this latest turn after police questioned two men they arrested Wednesday, and later released without charges.
“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 a statement Saturday night to Urban Hollywood 411. “We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
On the day of the Jan. 29 attack, Smollett told officers he was beaten, doused with a chemical and had a rope placed around his neck. The actor and singer, who is African-American and openly gay, said the perpetrators yelled “this is MAGA country,” before they ran off into the darkness.
News of the shift in the case was first reported Saturday by CNN. Citing two law enforcement sources, the cable news network said Smollett paid the men, who are now fully cooperating with investigators. The CNN report said records show the men purchased the rope at an Ace Hardware store in Chicago.
The two men — identified by Chicago media outlets as Nigerian siblings Obabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo — were arrested Wednesday at Chicago O’Hare International Airport after returning from Nigeria.
Officers searched the pair’s home and reportedly collected evidence including shoes, bleach and electronic devices.
The brothers, who police initially described as “potential suspects,” were released Friday night “due to new evidence,” according to the CPD.
Police said at least one of the men appeared as an extra on Empire, which is filmed in Chicago.
Despite these latest allegations against Smollett, the actor’s attorneys issued a statement vehemently denying he played a role 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,” defense lawyers, Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, said in a statement.
The lawyers went on to say Smollett hired one of the men as a personal trainer, but it’s “impossible” the individual took part in the attack.
“One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. 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 attorneys said.
Late Saturday, CBS Chicago published a story alleging Smollett paid the men $3,500, and promised them another $500 after they returned from Nigeria.
The television station said the brothers told detectives they rehearsed the attack with Smollett a few days before it unfolded.
Since Jan. 29, Smollett has repeatedly said — including in a tearful Good Morning America interview — he is telling the truth.
Below is the full statement from Smollett’s attorneys:
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. He has now been further victimized by claims attributed to these alleged perpetrators that Jussie played a role in his own attack. Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.
One of these purported suspects was Jussie’s personal trainer who he hired to ready him physically for a music video. 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.
Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate. At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to “unnamed” sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.