Attorneys for “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett say there are no plans for him to meet with Chicago detectives Monday for a follow-up interview about his reported assault.
Anne Kavanagh, a spokeswoman for Smollett’s lawyers, said in an emailed statement his lawyers “will keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf.”
Smollett reported last month that he was physically attacked by two men who yelled homophobic and racial slurs. He said they also yelled he was in “MAGA Country,” an apparent reference to President Donald Trump’s campaign slogan.
But police said over the weekend that the investigation had “shifted.”
Police are investigating whether Smollett paid the men, who are brothers, to stage an attack on the actor in the Streeterville neighborhood late last month.
Detectives are following up on information provided by the brothers while they were in custody for two days last week, according to authorities.
Investigators also have been given new details about the rope Smollett said was made into a noose and placed around his neck as he walked toward his apartment. Detectives had been searching area retailers to find the source of the rope, but the new information allowed them to narrow their search and find where it was sold, according to news reports.
The brothers, 25 and 27, were released without charges late Friday, 12 hours after police had called them “possible suspects.”
Detectives still need to verify their stories. Chicago Police had announced Saturday that investigators hoped to interview Smollett soon.
The actor issued a strongly worded statement after the investigation shifted, insisting the attack happened.
“Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with,” read the statement from his attorneys. “He has 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.”
The statement said one of the brothers was Smollett’s personal trainer, the first time he has acknowledged knowing either of them. The two also reportedly worked with Smollett on “Empire.”
But the strange case “shifted” this weekend, according to Chicago Police, with the department saying the investigation’s trajectory had changed amid news media reports that detectives were reviewing whether the attack Smollett reported late last month had been a hoax.
The announcement came after investigators released two men — brothers who know Smollett — without charging them after having identified them as potential suspects Friday. At least one of them had appeared on “Empire” and Smollett, through his lawyers, has acknowledged hiring one of the men as a personal trainer.
Several news outlets, including CNN, reported that law enforcement sources unnamed in the news item said the brothers had told investigators they were paid to take part in a hoax.
On Sunday, Anthony Guglielmi, chief spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, reported the latest official developments in a Twitter post.
On Friday, Smollet’s lawyers issued a strong statement in which the actor rejected any suggestion that he had any role in staging an assault on himself.
The episode has been in the national spotlight for weeks, and even Trump has weighed in on it. As of Sunday, police said they were interested in interviewing Smollett again as they sort out what occurred.
3 weeks since the police report: a timeline
On Jan. 29, Smollett, who is black and openly gay, tells police that at about 2 a.m., two masked men he believed to be white attacked him on the 300 block of East Lower North Water Street in downtown Chicago. The assailants, according to Smollett, hurled homophobic and racial slurs at him, put a rope around his neck and poured a chemical substance on him. Smollett says he went home, and a close associate of his reported the incident to police 40 minutes after it happened. Guglielmi later said Smollett had been hesitant to call the police because of his status as a public figure.
Law enforcement officials said they were treating the incident “as a possible hate crime.” At a follow-up visit by investigators, Smollett said the attackers mentioned “MAGA country,” a reference to Trump’s campaign slogan.
Several A-list celebrities, politicians, and advocacy groups offered their support to Smollett. Fox, the network on which “Empire” airs, issued a statement saying the “entire studio, network and production stands united in the face of any despicable act of violence and hate.”
Detectives combed through surveillance camera recordings but said they can’t find images of the attack.
On Jan. 30, investigators announced the first tangible progress in the case: A surveillance image shows “potential persons of interest wanted for questioning” in connection to the case. The images are of two men with their backs to the camera. At this point, the FBI was investigating a threatening letter sent to Smollett at the “Empire” production offices in Chicago the week before.
On Jan. 31, Trump was asked about the incident in the Oval Office. He referred to it as “horrible” and added that it “doesn’t get worse.”
The Smollett family released this statement: “Jussie was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack. We want to be clear, this was a racial and homophobic hate crime. Jussie has told the police everything from the very beginning. His story has never changed, and we are hopeful they will find these men and bring them to justice.”
On Feb. 1, Smollett released his first public statement through his publicist: “Let me start by saying that I’m OK. My body is strong but my soul is stronger. More importantly, I want to say thank you. The outpouring of love and support from my village has meant more than I will ever be able to truly put into words.”
Acknowledging some skepticism about his story on social media, Smollett adds, “I am working with authorities and have been 100 percent factual and consistent on every level.”
On Feb. 3, Smollett, who is also a singer, appeared in public for the first time since he reported the attack, performing a concert in West Hollywood. “I have so many words on my heart that I want to say, but the most important thing I can say is, thank you so much, and that I’m OK,” Smollett told the crowd.
On Feb. 11, the department reacted to phone records that Smollett turned over to investigators. Police had asked Smollett for access to his phone because he had been in conversation with his manager when the incident occurred. Smollett provided the police with redacted records that they say “do not meet the burden for a criminal investigation.”
Less than a week ago, on Wednesday, two brothers of Nigerian descent, Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, were detained by authorities after landing in Chicago on a flight from Nigeria. Police raid their home and, according to CBS Chicago, remove items including an “Empire” script and two hats.
On Thursday, Smollett gave his first interview about the incident to “Good Morning America,” where he is adamant that he is telling 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 have supported me much more,” Smollett tells ABC’s Robin Roberts. “A lot more.”
He also said he is convinced the men in the surveillance images were his attackers. “Because I was there,” Smollett said. “For me, when that was released, I was like, ‘OK, we’re getting somewhere.’ I don’t have any doubt in my mind that that’s them. Never did.”
Chicago Police revealed publicly that at least one of the men detained has appeared as an extra on “Empire.” The department also said they “are not yet suspects.” Their lawyer, Gloria Schmidt, told CBS Chicago, “They’re really baffled why they are people of interest. The local news media released its first reports that investigators are beginning to look at the possibility that this is a hoax, something Chicago police dispute publicly.
On Friday, the detained brothers were identified as potential suspects by police, but that night were released without being charged. Investigators announced they are no longer considered suspects but did not say why.
On Saturday, police said they were seeking to speak with Smollett again. Media outlets reported that the two men told investigators they were paid to take part in a hoax. Guglielmi says in a statement, “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.”
Lawyers for Smollett released a statement saying, “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.” It added: “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 lawyers said Smollett will “continue to cooperate” and that they “have no inclination to respond to ‘unnamed’ sources inside of the investigation.”
On Monday, the story reached the 2020 campaign trail: Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., says she won’t comment again on the investigation into the reported attack until it’s completed. Harris previously tweeted that the alleged attack was “an attempted modern day lynching.” Speaking to reporters in Concord, New Hampshire, during her first presidential campaign trip to the early-primary state on Presidents Day, Harris said “the facts are still unfolding” and that while she is “very concerned” about Smollett’s initial allegation and it should be taken seriously, “there should be an investigation.”