CHICAGO—Chicago police said Sunday, Feb. 17, they’re still seeking a follow-up interview with Jussie Smollett after receiving new information that “shifted” their investigation of a reported attack on the “Empire” actor.
The trajectory of the investigation “shifted” after detectives questioned two brothers about the attack and released them late Friday, Feb. 15, without charges, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Saturday. He said police also reached out to Smollett’s attorney to request another interview with him.
Guglielmi said Sunday the interview had not yet been conducted. He declined to comment on published reports that police believe Smollett staged the assault or that a grand jury may hear evidence in the case. The reports cited unnamed police sources.
Smollett, who is black, and gay, has said he was physically attacked last month by two masked men shouting racial and anti-gay slurs and “This is MAGA country!” He said they looped a rope around his neck before running away as he was returning home from an early morning stop at a Subway restaurant in downtown Chicago. He said they also poured some kind of chemical on him.
A CNN article indicates police sources have come to believe Smollett paid the two men to stage the attack. A source also told CNN that police traced the purchase of the rope found around Smollett’s neck to a purchase made by one of the arrested brothers at a Chicago hardware store.
BREAKING:Police raided the home of two persons of interest in Jussie Smollett case last night. Both men are of Nigerian decent and have appeared as extras on the show. Police took bleach, shoes electronics and more.Officers asked family if they knew #Jussiesmollett. @cbschicago pic.twitter.com/PDSFtf5jwb
— Charlie De Mar (@CharlieDeMar) February 14, 2019
Pamela Sharp, a spokeswoman for Smollett, said Sunday that there were no updates “as of now.” Another spokeswoman, Anne Kavanagh, later said she couldn’t comment on whether Smollett had agreed to another interview.
Smollett’s lawyers said late Saturday that the actor felt “victimized” by reports that he played a role in the assault, adding that, “Nothing is further from the truth and anyone claiming otherwise is lying.” The statement from attorneys Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson also said Smollett would continue cooperating with police.
Police said they combed surveillance video in the heavily monitored area where Smollett said the attack occurred but were unable to find any footage of the incident. They did obtain images of two people they said they would like to question.
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.
Then, late Friday evening they 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.
One of the men is Smollett’s personal trainer, whom the actor hired to help get him physically ready for a music video, Smollett’s attorneys said in their statement.
“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.
Police have said they were investigating the attack as a possible hate crime and considered Smollett a victim. Reports of the assault drew outrage and support for him on social media from some politicians and celebrities. Smollett’s account of what happened also has been met with skepticism, particularly in the wake of the latest developments.
Smollett, who is also a musician, gave an emotional speech during a Feb. 2 concert in West Hollywood, California, saying he went ahead with the show because he couldn’t let his attackers win.
Interviewer Robin Roberts brings up that people supported him earlier, but now have doubts as time has passed.
So these are the white supremacists that attacked #JussieSmollett ?
Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo
And all he had was a tiny scratch on his face? ???????? pic.twitter.com/gxBaqqF0rc
— Melanisha ♣️ (@bl_melanisha) February 15, 2019
He also gave an interview to Robin Roberts of ABC News that aired Thursday, in which he said he was “pissed” at people who did not believe he was attacked.
When asked why he feels he was targeted, Smollett said it is because he speaks out against President Trump. But Roberts reminds him that President Trump said, “I think that’s horrible. It doesn’t get worse as far as I’m concerned” when asked about Smollett’s alleged attack. A clip of that response is included in the interview video.
— Mike Bayham (@MikeBayham) February 17, 2019
“It appears that Jussie Smollett 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,” tweeted Donald Trump Jr., as the idea that Smollett manufactured the incident started to spread.
It appears that Jussie Smollett 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.
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) February 17, 2019
Earlier this week, police said reports that the attack against Smollett was a hoax were unconfirmed.
Smollett turned over redacted phone records that police said were not sufficient for a criminal investigation.
NTD reporter Colin Fredericson contributed to this report.