Two unnamed Chicago Police Department sources now claim Empire actor Jussie Smollett may have coordinated his own attack, CNN reports.
“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,” CPD chief communications officer Anthony Guglielmi tweeted.
Case Update: 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. pic.twitter.com/Hswn1Qjgcy
— Anthony Guglielmi (@AJGuglielmi) February 16, 2019
The two men, identified as Nigerian brothers Olabinjo “Ola” and Abimbola “Abel” Osundairo, were being questioned and treated as “potential suspects.”
The police sources confirm that the brothers, who are cooperating fully with law enforcement, have provided new evidence that has redirected the investigation. These same officials say the CPD now believes Smollett may have paid the brothers to stage an assault on him.
“The new direction of the investigation is now based on the premise that Mr. Smollett was an active participant in the incident,” the CPD said Saturday in a statement.
“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. We’ve reached out to the Empire cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Smollett, 36, who plays gay performer Jamal Lyon on the Fox drama, was allegedly attacked January 29 in Chicago by two masked assailants using racist and homophobic slurs. They reportedly yelled, “Aren’t you that faggot Empire nigger?” and “This is MAGA country!”
The attackers also reportedly tied rope around Smollett’s neck and poured bleach on him in what Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker called “an attempted modern-day lynching.”
Police raided the Osundairo home Wednesday after detaining the brothers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport upon their return from a trip to Nigeria. Some of the items seized at the house included a black face mask, an Empire script, a red hat, and bleach.
“When they first learned about what happened to him they were horrified,” Gloria Schmidt, the brothers’ attorney, initially said. “This is someone they know. This is someone they’ve worked with, so they don’t want to see somebody go through that.”
Schmidt now says that her clients, who claim they were compensated, have provided evidence corroborating that they purchased the rope at a hardware store near the scene of the attack, according to CBS.
Authorities and Schmidt confirm that Smollett was acquainted with the brothers, who worked as extras on Empire and worked out at Smollett’s gym. Smollett also reportedly follows the brothers on Instagram, and one of their phones showed a call between them and Smollett shortly before the incident.
Todd S. Pugh and Victor P. Henderson, Smollett’s attorneys, issued a statement late Saturday in response to these new allegations:
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.
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. 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.
A CPD spokesperson previously tweeted that media reports about the incident being a hoax, possibly staged because the actor feared he was being written off of Empire, were “unconfirmed,” as well as “uninformed and inaccurate.” Empire representatives have also strongly denied any plans to kill off Smollett’s character.
The CPD previously released a screenshot from surveillance video of two persons of interest in connection with the alleged attack, which they had been treating as a potential hate crime.
“Let me start by saying that I’m OK,” Smollett said in his first official statement following the attack. “I am working with authorities and have been 100% factual and consistent on every level.”
Smollett made his first public appearance following the attack last Saturday at the Troubadour in West Hollywood. He took the opportunity to correct some rumors and misreporting regarding the incident, telling the crowd, “I fought the fuck back.”
Appearing Thursday on Good Morning America, Smollett stood by his story and expressed frustration at his challenged credibility. “I want them to stop being able to say ’alleged attack,'” he told host Robin Roberts.