The investigation into Jussie Smollett’s reported hate crime attack has changed directions, allegedly to focus on the Empire star himself. On Saturday, February 16, the Chicago police department issued a statement claiming they want to question the actor about possibly staging the attack.
However, Smollett and his team are now speaking out, firmly denying he had any involvement in orchestrating the January 29 assault.
According to Variety.com, Smollett's attorney said in a statement late Saturday night [February 16], "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. 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."
The statement continued, “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. Jussie and his attorneys anticipate being further updated by the Chicago Police Department on the status of the investigation and will continue to cooperate."
The attorney closed with, "At the present time, Jussie and his attorneys have no inclination to respond to ‘unnamed’ sources inside of the investigation, but will continue discussions through official channels.”
In case you missed it, earlier in the day on Saturday, February 16, Chicago police department confirmed it is redirecting the investigation into the alleged incident based on new evidence. Smollett, who was hospitalized following the incident, claims he was attacked by two white men who put a noose around his neck, threw bleach on his face and yelled "this is MAGA country, n****r" after beating him.
However, on Thursday [February 14] brothers Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, who are Black and of Nigerian descent, were detained as suspects in the attack and interrogated by police. They were subsequently released without charges the next day, Friday. “Due to new evidence as a result of today’s interrogations, the individuals questioned by police in the Empire case have now been released without charging and detectives have additional investigative work to complete,” the Chicago PD said in a statement on Friday. The Osundairo brothers were once extras on Empire and appear to have been friends with Smollett.
Then, on Saturday, Chicago PD released another official statement stating the investigation has taken a new direction, to focus on the Empire star's possible involvement. “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,” spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said in a statement later shared by CBS, “We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
This shift comes just two days after Chicago police responded to claims by a local Chicago news outlet that the attack was staged. They said in a statement, "Media reports (about) the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives," he wrote. "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."
The Chicago Police have not responded to the most recent statement from Smollett's attorneys.
The story has captivated the nation with everyone from Sen. Kamala Harris to U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez commenting on the alleged attack.
(Photo by Scott Dudelson/Getty Images for ABA)