‘Jussie Smollett is angered and devastated by recent reports that the perpetrators are individuals he is familiar with…’
(Jeremy Gorner, Megan Crepeau and William Lee, Chicago Tribune) Chicago police say Jussie Smollett is suspected of filing a false police report about a racially charged attack he says occurred as he walked to his apartment building in the Streeterville neighborhood last month.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi confirmed in a tweet, that authorities were seeking a Class 4 felony charge against the “Empire” actor, who claimed to have been targeted by masked white assailants wearing MAGA hats. They later were revealed, allegedly, to have been a pair of Nigerian bodybuilder associates of Smollett’s.
Case Update: Jussie Smollett is now officially classified as a suspect in a criminal investigation by #ChicagoPolice for filing a false police report (Class 4 felony). Detectives are currently presenting evidence before a Cook County Grand Jury. pic.twitter.com/FhDcbBKsuU
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 20, 2019
Earlier Wednesday, Guglielmi said attorneys for Smollett, 36, were meeting with prosecutors and detectives but it was unclear if the actor was present. The lawyers, Todd Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, could not be reached for comment.
On Tuesday, two brothers who had been under arrest in the case appeared at the criminal courthouse, also to talk to prosecutors and detectives, authorities said. They and their attorney, Gloria Schmidt, were seen near the grand jury rooms Tuesday afternoon, but police said they did not appear before it.
Smollett, who is African-American and openly gay, has said he was walking from a Subway sandwich shop to his apartment on East North Water Street around 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 when two men walked up, yelled racial and homophobic slurs, declared “This is MAGA country,” hit him and wrapped a noose around his neck.
Police initially said they were investigating the reported attack as a hate crime and took the two brothers, 25 and 27, into custody last week after they were captured by surveillance cameras in the area around the time of the alleged attack. Guglielmi called them “potential suspects” last Friday morning, but they were released 12 hours later.
Guglielmi said the brothers were no longer suspected and that, after talking with them, detectives were now investigating whether Smollett paid the brothers to stage the attack. Information from the brothers also allowed investigators to discover where the rope used for the noose had been purchased, according to the law enforcement source.
The shift in the investigation’s focus came amid growing skepticism on social media—doubts that Smollett addressed in a national TV interview and in a strongly worded statement after the brothers were released.
“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 had acknowledged knowing either of them. The two also reportedly worked with Smollett on “Empire.”
A week before the incident, Smollett told police he received a threatening letter at work. Witnesses told police a postal worker dropped off the letter at the Chicago studio where “Empire” is filmed. It was postmarked in southwest suburban Bedford Park on Jan. 18 and bore two American flag stamps. The letters “MAGA” were written in the upper-left corner of the envelope. Federal authorities are investigating the origin of the letter.
The status of that investigation was not known Wednesday.
Meanwhile, production of “Empire” continued Wednesday as cast and crew try to wrap up the final episodes of Season 5. Filming took place at the Ferrara Bakery on the Near West Side. It’s unclear which cast members participated in the shoot because crew members put cardboard over the bakery’s doors, and security guards patrolled Taylor Street by the shop’s entrance.
Also Wednesday, representatives for the Fox network, which produces and airs “Empire,” reiterated support for Smollett while denying media reports that his role on the show is being reduced or eliminated altogether.
“Jussie Smollett continues to be a consummate professional on set and as we have previously stated, he is not being written out of the show,” the statement from Fox read.
(c)2019 Chicago Tribune. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.