Chicago Police are asking to re-interview Jussie Smollett about the alleged racist and homophobic attack against him, with sources close to the investigation telling CNN that Smollett may have paid two men to stage the assault.
Police began asking for more information about Smollett after arresting two brothers who were believed to be two men caught by a surveillance camera in the neighborhood where the alleged attack took place. Both men were released on Friday without being charged, with police citing “new evidence.”
Both men are said to be cooperating with police as the investigation moves forward. Police said they seized several items from a raid of the men’s home, including a black facemask hat, an Empire script, a phone, receipts, a red hat, and bleach.
Smollett, who plays Jamal on the Fox TV drama Empire, told police that he was attacked in the early morning hours of Jan. 29 after leaving a Subway restaurant. He claimed two men approached him, yelling racial and homophobic slurs at him.
They then allegedly beat Smollett, put a rope around his neck, and poured an unknown chemical substance believed to be bleach on him.
Smollett’s manager Brandon Moore, who claimed to be on the phone with Smollett at the time of the attack, later told police that he heard the attackers calling Smollett “Empire faggot [racial expletive]” and shouting “This is MAGA country!”
But details of Smollett’s account of the event also raised a number of red flags, including the fact that his cell phone was not stolen, he still had the sandwich he had purchased after the attack, and the linking of the racist, homophobic attack with President Trump, of whom Smollett has been critical.
Some outlets, particularly conservative and right-wing websites, began to speculate that Smollett had fabricated the story, especially after he refused to turn over his complete phone records, only offering police a redacted version.
Since then, sources close to the investigation have alleged that Smollett paid the two men $3,500 to stage the attack, reports Chicago’s CBS 2 News. The brothers reportedly told investigators that Smollett directed them to buy the rope used in the incident, and that they had rehearsed their plan just days before the incident.
According to CNN, two Chicago Police sources said that they believe Smollett paid the men to attack him, and that records show the brothers bought the rope at a Chicago hardware store.
On Sunday, police released a statement saying they “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,” Chicago Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote in a tweet responding to those allegations.
Smollett’s attorneys issued a statement saying their client is angry about the accusations being made against him. They also said they would continue cooperating with the police, but only through official channels, and will not respond to allegations from unnamed or anonymous sources.
“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,” attorneys Todd Pugh and Victory Henderson said. “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,” the lawyers added. “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.”