CHICAGO — The two men questioned by investigators in the alleged attack of “Empire” star Jussie Smollett changed the focus of the investigation, Chicago Police said.
Smollett in January said he was attacked in Streeterville by two men who used racist and homophobic slurs. Chicago Police detectives have searched for the attackers and worked to build a case with video records, phone records and physical evidence.
Earlier this week, police said they had located two people who were considered “people of interest” in the case. While questioning them, police said the men were considered suspects, but later said the men had been released and were no longer considered suspects. But the mens’ conversations with investigators led police to change the focus of their investigation, and officers are now trying to interview Smollett again, police said Saturday.
“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,” said Anthony Guglielmi, a Chicago Police spokesman. “We’ve reached out to the ‘Empire’ cast member’s attorney to request a follow-up interview.”
Smollett’s reps emphasized he is a victim in a statement sent to Out magazine last week. The actor, who stars as the son of music moguls in “Empire,” has faced heavy online criticism since reporting the alleged hate crime, with people accusing him of lying about or exaggerating what happened.
Smollett, who is gay and black, told police he was walking early Jan. 29 in Steeterville when two men yelled slurs, including, “‘Empire’ f—–” and “‘Empire’ n—–,” and hit him. The men also put a noose around Smollett’s neck and poured something on him.
Afterward, police released images of two men who they said had been in the area of the alleged attack. The men were found and were being questioned by police Thursday.
Police also asked Smollett and his manager, who Smollett said he’d been on the phone with shortly before the attack, to turn over their phones. Smollett gave investigators “limited and heavily redacted” phone records, according to CBS2.
“Jussie is the victim here, which has been stated by the Superintendent of Police,” Smollett’s statement to Out said. “Jussie has voluntarily provided his phone records from within an hour of the attack and given multiple statements to police. Chicago PD has repeatedly informed us that they find Jussie’s account of what happened that night consistent and credible. Superintendent Johnson has been clear from day one that Jussie is a victim. We are continuing to work closely with the Chicago PD and remain confident that they will find Jussie’s attackers and bring them to justice.
“Any redacted information was intended to protect the privacy of personal contacts or high-profile individuals not relevant to the attack.”
Earlier this month, Smollett released a statement where he said he was doing “OK” after the alleged attack. He thanked supporters for their “outpouring of love.”