Empire actor Jussie Smollet has been accused of staging last month’s racist and homophobic attack by two local TV news stations – but police are pushing back at the claims calling them ‘unconfirmed’ and the sourcing ‘uniformed and inaccurate’.
ABC Chicago and CBS Chicago both claimed that ‘multiple sources’ had said detectives were considering the possibility that Smollett – together with two male persons of interest brought in for questioning Wednesday night – had faked the story because Smollett was being written off of Empire.
CBS reporters claimed that police sources said Smollet ‘potentially staged the attack’ and said ‘indicators point to Smollett orchestrating the event’.
The persons of interest are allegedly two former extras on Empire who are brothers and friends of Smollet – who traveled to Nigeria hours after the attack and returned on Wednesday when they were arrested at Chicago O’Hare airport.
Cops raided their home on Thursday and found numerous items including bleach and an Empire script.
In a statement Thursday evening, Chicago Police Department Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted: ‘Media reports anout (sic) the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives.
‘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.’
Around the same time, 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Entertainment released a joint statement denying rumors that Smollett’s place on Empire was in jeopardy.
‘The idea that Jussie Smollett has been, or would be, written off of Empire is patently ridiculous,” the network and studio said in a joint statement.
‘He remains a core player on this very successful series and we continue to stand behind him.’
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Media reports claiming that investigators are looking into the possibility that Jussie Smollett may have staged last month’s racist, homophobic attack because he was allegedly being written off of Empire were quickly labeled ‘uninformed and inaccurate’ by Chicago police Smollett is seen above during an emotional interview with Good Morning America
Chicago Police Department Chief Communications Officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted about the reports on Thursday evening
Chicago police Thursday morning that two persons of interest were being questioned by detectives.
Hours later, CBS Chicago reporter Charlie De Mar tweeted that he’d spoken to family of the two brothers, who are Nigerian and were both extras on Empire.
Police reportedly seized a black face mask hat, an Empire script, a phone, receipts, five bottles of bleach, a red hat, two laptops and other items from the home.
The relative who was home when the raid went down Wednesday night described hearing loud banging on the door before police flooded into the home and announced that they had a search warrant.
The woman, who is in her 20s, told CBS Chicago she was ‘so scared’ and thought she was going to die. She said she was patted down by an officer and asked by detectives if she knew Smollett.
She said that she thinks the brothers are being question because of their loose Empire connection to Smollett and the fact that they left for Nigeria on the same day of the attack.
Law enforcement sources confirmed that the men returned from Nigeria on Wednesday night and investigators met them at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.
Reports emerged Thursday that police had raided the home of two persons of interest in the Smollett case who may have been the same men seen in surveillance footage around the time of the attack on January 29 (above)
CBS Chicago reporter Charlie De Mar tweeted Thursday afternoon that he’d spoken to family of the two persons of interests, Nigerian brothers who were both extras on Empire
Police reportedly seized a black face mask hat, an Empire script, a phone, receipts, five bottles of bleach, a red hat, two laptops and other items from the home
When contacted Thursday by DailyMail.com a CPD spokesperson said the two persons of interest were the same men filmed walking near where the attack happened at around the same time.
TMZ reported that detectives found the men by looking at ride-sharing history records from the night of the attack.
CPD officials confirmed that Smollett was questioned again on Thursday, the same day he spoke about the attack in an interview with Good Morning America.
He told Good Morning America that he has ‘never’ had ‘any doubt’ that the two people in the image were the ones who attacked him and that when CPD released their image within the first few days of the incident, he became hopeful justice would be served.
Since then, there have been few developments and the police department has repeatedly spoken of the fact that Smollett did not hand over his phone when asked to do so on the night of the incident.
The two men, whose names have not been released, were filmed near to where Smollett was attacked on January 29 at 2am. They were filmed walking on the same street as the Empire star and getting up after he walked past them on the other side of the street.
To Smollett’s despair, no footage of the actual attack has been uncovered yet.
In a Twitter statement on Thursday morning, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi wrote: ‘Through s meticulous investigation, Chicago Police detectives have identified the persons of interest in the area of the alleged attack of the Empire cast member.
‘These individuals are not yet suspects but were in area of concern and are being questioned. Investigation continues.’
He posted a second tweet within a few minutes which read: ‘The people of interest are alleged to be in the area where a crime was reported.
‘They are not considered suspects at this time as they are currently being questioned by detectives. We remain in communication with the alleged victim. ‘
Smollett spoke about the horror attack in a Thursday interview with Good Morning America
The actor became emotional at several points during the interview as he described how he did not want to seem ‘weak’ when he finally agreed to report the incident to the police
Smollett also shared new photographs of his injuries which he said included a burn on his neck where the rope was placed and facial scratches
In his hour-long interview with Good Morning America that was aired in part on Thursday, Smollett, wearing a collection of badges to show his support of Freedom and Pride among other causes, revealed his frustration at some of the public disbelief surrounding his version of events.
He said he does not think he would have been met with the same cynicism if his attackers weren’t white Trump supporters and revealed his belief that he was targeted because he is a vocal critic of the president.
JUSSIE SMOLLETT ATTACK TIMELINE
January 29 12.30am: Neighbor claims to see two suspicious men, one with a rope, outside Smollett’s apartment building
2am: Smollett is filmed on surveillance cameras leaving Subway
Sometime in the next few minutes, he is attacked by the men as he talked on the phone with manager Brandon Z. Moore.
He is picked back up by surveillance cameras entering his apartment building afterwards,
2.35am: Frank Gatson, his friend who was in his apartment, insists that they call the police
2.42am: Police arrive at the actor’s apartment and find him still wearing the rope the attackers placed around his neck. It is not fastened in a noose and is slack.
Smollett takes himself to the hospital afterwards.
January 30: Chicago PD releases surveillance footage of persons of interest seen near the area of attack at around the same time. Smollett’s cast mates lead tributes to him and condemnations of the incident
Smollett’s manager, Brandon Z. Moore, tells Variety they were on the phone at the time of the incident and that he heard what the attackers say.
January 31st: President Trump condemns the attack as ‘horrible’
February 1st: Smollett’s family speaks out and labels the attack a ‘hate crime’
Smollett breaks his silence with his own statement slamming misinformation about the attack.
February 2nd: A defiant Smollett plays a sold out show at The Troubador in Los Angeles
February 5th: Chicago PD releases incident report which reveals Smollett did not want to call police. There is no mention of the MAGA country remark which he gave in a follow-up interview
Brandon Z. Moore, his manager, gives police a screenshot to prove their call.
February 11th: Smollett finally hands over redacted phone records to prove the phone call but police label them ‘insufficient’.
His neighbors say they don’t believe his version of events.
February 12th: Smollett’s rep releases statement to say he is the victim and that he has been telling the truth
February 13th: GMA teases interview with Smollett crying. Police say they are no further with inquiries.
February 14: Smollett’s full interview is aired between 7am and 8am.
At 9.40am, police announce they have ID’d the people in the video
Smollett also went into detail about why he did not immediately hand over his phone to the police to verify parts of his story and said he was trying to protect private photographs, videos, songs and phone numbers of high profile people and his partner.
He said he was frustrated that Chicago Police had not yet found surveillance footage of the incident and revealed his disappointment after learning that a camera at the very spot of the attack was turned in the opposite direction when it took place.
Choking back tears, he explained when asked why it took so long for him to contact the authorities: ‘There is a level of pride there. We live in a society where as a gay man you are considered somehow to be weak and I am not weak. I am not weak and we as a people are not weak.’
Describing the chain of events once police arrived at his apartment at the request of 60-year-old Frank Gatson, his friend who was at the apartment when the attack took place.
‘I told them what happened. I asked them to turn their body cameras off. I was like, “Please just come in.
‘I don’t want a big scene with my neighbors,”‘ he said, adding that he had left the rope around his neck and his bleach-doused clothes on for them to see.
He said that while he left the rope around his neck, it was not ‘wrapped’ tightly.
After the police had come into his apartment, he took them down to where the attack happened to walk them through it and became excited when he noticed a camera overlooking the exact spot where it took place.
‘I looked up and saw there was a camera, directly on the post on the intersection.
‘Then the detective told me that the camera was facing north so they didn’t have it and that was disappointing.’
Later, he added how desperate he was for them to find footage of the attack.
‘I want that video found so badly because, for probably four reasons.
‘Number one, I want them to find the people that did it.
‘Number two, I want them to stop being able to say “alleged” attack.
‘Number three, I want them to see that I fought back,’ he continued, welling-up.
‘I want a little gay boy who might watch this to see that I fought the f*** back. They ran off,’ I didn’t,’ he said.
He was overcome with emotion when presented with the prospect that his attackers might not be found.
‘Let’s just hope that they are found. Let’s not go there yet. I was talking to a friend and I said,”I just hope they find them.” And she said, “Sweetie, they’re not going to find them.”
‘That made me so angry. I’m just going to be left here with this? They get to go free and go about their life and do this to someone else and I am left with the aftermath of this bulls**t? That’s not cool to me.
‘I understand how difficult it will be to find them, but we gotta.
‘I still want to believe there’s something called justice,’ he said.
Addressing why he did not hand over his phone to prove that he had been on a call with his manager when the attack took place, he said he did not feel comfortable being without the device for several hours when it contained the private information and phone numbers of celebrities and friends.
‘They wanted me to give my phone to the tech for three to our hours. And I’m sorry but, I’m not going to do that because I have private pictures and videos and phone numbers, my partner’s number, my family’s numbers, my cast mates’ numbers, my private emails, private songs, voice memos, pictures, videos…
‘Honestly, by then, inaccurate statements had already been put out,’ he said, referring to the false reports which emerged in the immediate aftermath of the attack including that the assailants were wearing MAGA hats and that his ribs were broken in it.
Smollett is pictured in the hospital after a friend called the police to report him being attacked. He did not want to involve authorities
Smollett condemned the avalanche of false information and speculation over why he had gone out so late which ensued after it became public.
‘I’ve heard that it was a date hone bad which I so resent that narrative. I’m not going to go out to get a tuna sandwich and a salad to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous and offensive.
‘Yes there’s Grindr… I have not been on that in years. I can admit that I was on that back in the day when I was single,’ he said.
If I had said it was a Muslim or a Mexican or someone black, I feel like the doubters would have supported me a lot more.
Another falsehood was that Smollett had told police his attackers were wearing MAGA hats.
‘That I had said they were wearing MAGA hats,’ he said, giving an example of the misinformation that was spread.
‘I never said that. I don’t need to add anything like that. They called me a f****t. I don’t need to add anything like that. I don’t need to make MAGA hat the cherry on the top of some racist sundae,’ he said.
‘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 a lot more.
‘That says a lot about the place that we are at in the country right now,’ he said solemnly.
The attackers called him ‘Empire f****t n****r’, punched him in the face, and told him ‘This is MAGA country!’ before fleeing.
Trump condemned the attack was ‘horrible’ when asked about it last month. Smollett said on Thursday that he did not know how to react to the president’s reaction
Smollett believes they targeted him not only because he is gay and black but because is a vocal critic of the president who he referred to only as ’45’.
‘I can just assume, I come really, really hard against 45. I come really, really hard against his administration and I don’t hold my tongue.’
He said he was stunned when the president addressed the attack in the Oval Office and lent him his support. Trump, when asked about the incident, told reporters: ‘I saw it. That’s horrible. There is nothing worse as far as I am concerned.’
Smollett was shocked by his comments.
‘I don’t know what to say to that. I appreciate him not brushing over it,’ he said, adding that he believes he was targeted because of his disdain for the president.
‘I can only go off their words. Who says ‘f****t’, ‘Empire n****r’, ‘This MAGA country,’ ties a noose around your neck and pours bleach on you, and this is just a friendly fight?’ he said.
He added he has ‘no doubt’ that two people in a surveillance camera image that was circulated by Chicago police are the pair who attacked him.
‘I was there. 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.’
He also said he gave police the ‘best description’ he could after his friend, Frank Gatson, insisted that they call the police around 40 minutes after the attack.
One of the attackers was wearing a ski mask. Smollett, 36, described him as the ‘primary aggressor’.
‘I gave the description as best as I could. It’s Chicago in winter. People can wear ski masks and nobody’s going to question that,’ he said.
He said he had a large stature but could not recall any other details of either man’s appearance, saying that he did not even see what color their eyes were.
Last week, police discovered a Chilli Habanero hot sauce bottle which seemed to contain bleach (above). It was found near where Smollett says he was attacked and had bleach poured on him . It was found 10 days after the attack
The Empire actor became emotional as he recalled realizing that they had placed a noose around his neck after hitting him in the face and ribs and calling him a racial slur.
‘I noticed the rope around my neck and I said, “There’s a f****** rope around my neck,”‘ he said.
‘I’m p****d off. It’s the attackers but it’s also the attacks. At first it was a thing of like, listen if I tell the truth then that’s it cause it’s the truth.
‘Then it became a thing of like, “Oh, how can you doubt that? How can you not believe that. It’s the truth.”
‘And then it became a thing of like, “Oh. It’s not necessarily that you don’t believe that this is the truth, you don’t even want to see the truth,’ he said.
He also addressed the threatening letter he received in the mail a week before the attack at the Empire studio which contained a powder police believe may have been Tylenol.
‘On the letter it had a stick figure hanging from a tree with a gun pointing to it. The return address said in big red caps, MAGA.
‘Did I make that up too?’ he said.
It was not the first attack he has received, he said, adding that he had become accustomed to them as an ‘outspoken public figure’.
‘I get threatened all the time on Twitter and Instagram and DMs and things like that but it’s like, you know, I’m a public figure. I am very outspoken. Sometimes maybe too outspoken. But it’s who I am.
‘So I get the idea of p****** people off, that you’re going to rub people the wrong way.’
A week before the attack, Smollett received this threatening letter at the Fox studio where he works
In the initial aftermath of the attack, Smollett received an outpouring of support from celebrities and fans alike who all condemned the discrimination he was subjected to.
But in the weeks since, details of the incident have been picked over forensically.
Some of his neighbors have expressed skepticism that it happened the way he said it did and the lack of evidence has done nothing to quell their cynicism.
They have also pointed out repeatedly that Smollett did not immediately turn over his phone records or his phone to prove that he was on a call with his manager, Brandon Z. Moore, when the attack took place as claimed.
It carries special significance because Moore claims to have heard the attackers calling Smollett ‘Empire f****t n****r’ and shouting: ‘This is MAGA country!’
Within the first few days of the attack, he gave an interview to Variety saying he had heard the slurs but he has not spoken about it since.
On Monday, Smollett finally did hand over his records but they were redacted.
Chicago Police Department described them as ‘insufficient proof’ of the call.
The actor angrily responded that via a representative that he was never told as much and that they were redacted to protect ‘personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.’
The rest of Smollett’s ABC interview will be shown on Nightline on Thursday.