Chicago police have shifted the direction of their investigation into actor Jussie Smollett’s report of a hate-crime assault and are seeking to interview him again, after releasing two men detained for questioning in the probe, a police spokesman said on Saturday.
Smollett (36), an openly gay African-American performer who plays a gay character on the musical hip-hop TV drama “Empire”, ignited a furor on social media last month when he reported he had been attacked on the street by two men yelling racial and homophobic slurs.
According to Smollett’s account, his assailants struck him in the face, draped a rope around his neck and doused him with an “unknown chemical substance” before fleeing. Police said the actor took himself to a hospital, but was not seriously hurt.
On Wednesday evening this week, police said they arrested two Nigerian brothers described as “persons of interest” who were recognized from surveillance camera footage taken in the area of the alleged January 29 assault.
The pair was freed two days later without charge, according to the police on Friday, in light of “new evidence” from their interrogation.
Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi denied a media report on Thursday that detectives were looking into whether Smollett had staged the attack, saying then that there was “no evidence to say this is a hoax”.
On Saturday, Guglielmi issued a brief statement saying that “information received from the individuals questioned by police earlier in the ‘Empire’ case has in fact shifted the trajectory of the investigation”.
He added: “We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Meanwhile, the New York Post reported that Smollett has retained the services of criminal defence lawyer Michael Monico, a former Illinois federal prosecutor who is also representing President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen.
Neither Monico nor any of Smollett’s previously known representatives could immediately be reached for comment.
“Empire” debuted on the Fox network in 2015 and has earned multiple Emmy nominations. Smollett plays the character Jamal Lyon, a member of the family that is the focus of the show.