clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Police probe if attack on Smollett was staged, question actor linked to ‘Empire’

Actor Jussie Smollett told police he was beaten by attackers who yelled homophobic and racial slurs while walking in the 300 block of East North Lower Water Street downtown. | Sun-Times/Nader Issa; AP

Chicago police are investigating the possibility that the reported attack on “Empire” star Jussie Smollett was staged as they question two people including an actor connected with the show, a law enforcement source said Thursday.

Detectives believe the men, both of whom are black, are the same people shown in a surveillance image released by police days after the purported attack, said police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi.

Detectives were able to trace their location through ride-hailing and taxi records from the area where Smollett said the attack happened, according to a law enforcement source. Police have video from a doorbell camera among other images of the men, who were picked up at O’Hare Airport, the source said.

Officers have searched a North Side home where at least one of the “persons of interest” lives and recovered personal effects including cell phones, a source said. On Thursday night, no one answered the door at the home when a reporter rang the doorbell. The door appeared to have been damaged and left slightly open.

A neighbor said she saw law enforcement officials inside the home Wednesday evening, starting around 8 p.m.

They stayed “well past midnight,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be named. The woman said she would be surprised if her neighbors were involved in the incident involving Smollett.

An attorney for the men, who reportedly just returned from Nigeria, said they do know him.

“They have worked with him on ‘Empire,'” attorney Gloria Schmidt told CBS2. “…They’re baffled why they are people of interest.”

A representative for Smollett said he spoke to detectives about the case on Thursday.

“Jussie today answered routine questions for CPD and continues to be cooperative,” the representative said.

Guglielmi also tweeted Thursday, “Media reports [about] the Empire incident being a hoax are unconfirmed by case detectives.”

A North Side home was searched by police in connection with an investigation of an attack on actor Jussie Smollett. | Sun-Times/Nader Issa
A North Side home was searched by police in connection with an investigation of an attack on actor Jussie Smollett. | Sun-Times/Nader Issa

Smollett: ‘Ridiculous’ that I would lie

Earlier Thursday, Smollett said in an interview on “Good Morning America” that he believed the two people caught on a surveillance camera were his attackers.

An emotional Smollett told GMA anchor Robin Roberts that he’s sick of people questioning his report and hopes police find video showing the attack.

“I want that video found, found badly. Number one: I want them to find the people that did it. Number two: I want them to stop being able to say ‘allegedly.’ Number three: I want them to see I fought back. And I want a little gay boy, who might watch this to see that I fought f—— back.”

Smollett also said he refused to give detectives his phone the night of the attack because of privacy concerns.

“I have private pictures and videos and numbers. My partner’s number, my family’s number, my cast mates’ numbers, my friends’ numbers, my private emails, my private songs, my private voice memos,” he said.

But Smollett didn’t address why it took him two weeks to give police phone records from that night — or why they were redacted to the point that Chicago police said they were “insufficient for a criminal investigation.”

Roberts, addressing the issue from her anchor chair, said: “His attorneys tell us they are willing to cooperate.”

Smollett said he was on the phone with his manager after leaving a Subway restaurant about 2 a.m. on Jan. 29 when he heard someone shout “Empire” as he crossed an intersection in the Streeterville neighborhood.

A gay slur and a racist slur came next, said Smollett, who told police he was walking in the 300 block of East North Water Street when the attack happened.

“So I turned around and I said ‘What the f— did you just say to me?’”

“And I see the attacker, masked, and he said ‘This MAGA country n—–’ and punches me right in the face, so I punched his ass back. And then we started tussling,” said Smollett.

“You know, it was very icy and we ended up tussling by the stairs — fighting, fighting, fighting — there was a second person involved who was kicking me in my back and then it just stopped and they ran off and I saw where they ran and the phone was in my pocket but it had fallen out and it was sitting there and my manager was still on the phone,” he said.

Attackers weren’t wearing MAGA hats

“So I picked up the phone and was like ‘Brandon’ and he like ‘What’s going on?’ and I said ‘I was just jumped’ and then I looked down and I see that there’s a rope around my neck.”

He said reports that the attackers were wearing MAGA hats are inaccurate. And other false reports have frustrated him, he said.

“I’ve heard that it was a date gone bad, which I so resent that narrative. I’m not going to go out to get a tuna salad sandwich to meet somebody. That’s ridiculous, and it’s offensive,” he said.

“Yes, there’s Grindr. Yes, there’s Jack’d. Yes, there’s all of these things, which I have not been on in years,” Smollett said, referring to gay meet-up apps.

“I’m pissed off,” he said of people doubting his story.

“At first it was a thing of like, listen, if I tell the truth, then that’s it, because it’s the truth.

“Then it became a thing of like ‘Oh, how can you doubt that, like, how do you not believe that? It’s the truth.’ And then it became a thing 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.’”